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Lesson #1: The United States lost.
March 24, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Ten Lessons from the Iraq War
posted by latkes (87 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line"! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha...
posted by blue_beetle at 9:22 AM on March 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


Okay I need a decent, detailed list of every person I got into a screaming match with, online and off, who insisted that this exact thing could never happen and it would be fine and you just don't understand why do you hate america lol hippie.


There are wounds that could use some salt, all I'm saying.
posted by The Whelk at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2012 [23 favorites]


Only ten?
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


While the US military has formally ended its occupation of Iraq, some of the largest western oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, remain.

On November 27, 38 months after Royal Dutch Shell announced its pursuit of a massive gas deal in southern Iraq, the oil giant had its contract signed for a $17bn flared gas deal.


Mission Accomplished
posted by Trurl at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


Lesson #3: The United States gets in big trouble when the "marketplace of ideas" breaks down and when the public and our leadership do not have an open debate about what to do.

This one pisses me off. The marketplace of ideas didn't break down. There was no marketplace. The media and the chattering classes and the government, with their incestuous relationship, systematically excluded opposing views except when they lifted one up to laugh at it.
posted by fatbird at 9:30 AM on March 24, 2012 [24 favorites]


The answer to “Who won Iraq?” is Iran in the short run, and in the long run, China and India.
posted by Trurl at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


While one would expect OilCos affiliated with the invasion's Coalition partners to prosper, post-invasion, Trurl, it's curious that so many OilCos affiliated with nations that were neutral or cool to the invasion have also prospered post-invasion.

And they're not just picking up scraps -- non-coalition OilCos (Russian, Chinese) won key concessions.

It's a head scratcher.
posted by notyou at 9:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey guys remember when all the news was about how we'd rebuild Iraq as a beacon of democracy that would show those gosh darned terrorists (who are in Iraq, for some reason, and not like, where they came from) how amazing and wonderful secular democracy can be cause they could buy so much stuff and we'd win hearts and minds? Lets just all remember that was a serious argument actually coming out of the mouths of people and we're expected to believe in.

Every single one of these points was raised by people before the actual invasion and they all got shouted down.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 AM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.
posted by dibblda at 9:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lesson #10: Rethink U.S. grand strategy, not just tactics or methods.

Because it is not clear if any U.S. approach would have succeeded at an acceptable cost, the real lesson of Iraq is not to do stupid things like this again.


Good luck with that. Sincerely. Because America also learned this lesson in Vietnam. Problem is, it runs up against certain deep longstanding beliefs that the country as a whole has about itself. Specifically, Manifest Destiny.

It's a mid-19th idea and, as originally posited, limited itself to the Americas, but as the wiki page points out ... The belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, as expounded by Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, continues to have an influence on American political ideology.[5][6]

On the face of it, this doesn't sound like a bad thing. In fact, it sounds like a noble, enlightened thing. But mix it up with the kind of cynics that so proliferated the GW-Bush regime and the immense complexities and subtleties and enmities of the Iraq situation and you've got a two syllable word that starts with Q and rhymes with stagmire.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


mix it up with the kind of cynics that so proliferated the GW-Bush regime

American Exceptionalism is a bipartisan phenomenon.
posted by Trurl at 9:46 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It wasn't all failure; let's not forget the tremendous scale of the cost-plus contracts awarded to Haliburton, Blackwater, and others. That war provided the best profiteering and misappropriation we've seen in decades. There's a recession going on that we can't seem to shake, so we may need to stir up another one to help prop up the quarterly returns.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:57 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.

Speaking of Vietnam again, this question is very well explored in some histories of that war, because again, Vietnam was a huge fuckup, the blueprint for Iraq in many ways. And it's worth noting that Korea was the blueprint for Vietnam -- it just wasn't such a bad fuckup that everybody noticed and demanded explanations.

Why did America bungle so badly what it do so well in Germany/Japan?

The very long answer made short is that in Germany/Japan, America was a different nation which hadn't already accomplished the enormously challenging job of rehabilitating, revitalizing war destroyed nations. So it just went in and did the job, eyes wide open, the best people, the best equipment etc.

But in the wake of that, America unfortunately (for itself and for much of the world) has tended to believe its own hype. Because we did it before, we can do it again. Because we're the "Best damned country on earth" (it says so everywhere from newspaper editorials to our grade schools to our churches), we are. And so on. Believe the hype and you stop doing the work that earned you the hype in the first place.

Robert McNamara gets to the heart of this in the movie, The Fog Of War, which, speaking of blueprints, is very much the blueprint for this sort of article.

the two-hour documentary comprises eleven lessons from In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995). He posits, discourses upon, and propounds the lessons in the interview that is The Fog of War.
posted by philip-random at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lesson #2: It's not that hard to hijack the United States into a war.

This is an obvious one to any serious observer of the US and was Bin Laden's plan. He just planned on this happening in Afghanistan, but ha, we fooled him and did it in a country that had nothing to do 9/11.

That so many Americans bought into the need for the Iraq War is the truly frightening thing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Iraq War was the beginning of the end of my conservatism.

I was 15 when the invasion started, and as an avid Sean Hannity listener, (sometimes also Rush, but I didn't like him as much) I totally bought the neo-con story. I thought the war would be over quickly, we would find WMDs, and it would be awesome. (I'm embarrassed to write that, but I really did have this sort of "America is going to take down the Bad Guys! Fuck yeah!" attitude. I had absolutely no clue what the cost in blood and treasure would be.)

Then the weeks dragged into months, and the months dragged into years, and the talking points pivoted seamlessly from WMDs to freedom for Iraqis. ("You opposed the war? Clearly that means you supported Saddam Hussein and all his atrocities!") I couldn't help but notice that the original justification, that of WMDs, had vanished as if it had never been, down the memory hole.

All these conservative commentators that I had trusted were spectacularly, tragically wrong about the war. But the main thing that bothered me was that they didn't care. It didn't matter that they had been wrong, the important thing was to justify the war, no matter what.

So after the US had been in Iraq a couple years, I really started to genuinely wonder what else my talk radio host friends were wrong about. And then my politics began to drift left-ward slowly as I started to actually read justifications for liberal policies and (some of the time, at least) think "Huh, that actually makes sense when it's not presented as an absurd strawman."

The lesson I learned from the Iraq War is that it's okay to be anti-war, and that war-mongers are generally not to be trusted. I wish something that obvious hadn't come to me at such a terrible cost, but given a costly lesson, I think it's better to learn the lesson then to ignore it. And I really, really hope that my country's memory is not so short that we do the same thing in Iran.
posted by jcreigh at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2012 [36 favorites]


It's Foreign Policy so I don't expect much. But there is basically one real lesson: The US attack on Iraq was an imperialist war, and the people responsible are war criminals. In this regard, it is largely indistinguishable from virtually every other war the US has fought. Any subsequent lessons are about filling in the details.

I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.

This is assuming that "nation-building" was a motivation in Iraq, which I think is doubtful. The point in Iraq was to build it up as a subservient outpost of US imperialism, not to "build" a nation. Doing something like this is going to cheese off a lot of people. Doing it by way of an act of aggression which killed people by the hundreds of thousands is going to cheese off even more, undercutting local support. Germany and especially Japan were defeated in the context of a war in which they thoroughly defeated and where they were widely seen as the aggressors. There was little (as far as I know) in the way of domestic alternatives to what the US was imposing. In that context, the US could be seen as the good guys by much of the thoroughly exhausted population in a situation where there wasn't much in the way of local contradictions and conflicting forces. Also, the US interests in both the countries was to build them up as strong capitalist democracies which could help "contain" the USSR, militarily, economically, and ideologically.

tl;dr - Germany and Japan are kind of the outliers when it comes to the US's efforts at "nation-building."
posted by williampratt at 10:07 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


the talking points pivoted seamlessly from WMDs to freedom for Iraqis

As the talking points for Libya pivoted seamlessly from protecting civilians to deposing Qaddafi.

People here seemed to ride it out smoothly enough.
posted by Trurl at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


mix it up with the kind of cynics that so proliferated the GW-Bush regime

American Exceptionalism is a bipartisan phenomenon.


Yeah, but ... 1. being exceptionalist doesn't necessarily make you a cynic, you could just be stupid. And ... 2. it was the cynics (and the idiots) in the Bush admin who had the most power, the most pull.

But overall, point taken. It took more than just one rotten administration to make this war possible. It took a whole nation (enough of it anyway) getting all bloodthirsty, vengeful, righteous. In particular, it took a buy-in from key players in both major political parties and throughout the various media agencies. This buy-in is pretty easy to explain in many cases (ie: they were conservative and/or hawkish anyway), but not all. The scariest takeaway from it all for me is the various moderates/liberals/skeptics (whatever you want to call them) who fell for it. I'm thinking it was combination of fear and conformity. That is, not wanting to be seen standing out, questioning the mob, and thus fingered, getting turned on. So much easier to just go along, join the joyride to hell.
posted by philip-random at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.

In Japan, we had enough troops -- by the end of 1945, there were over 350,000 allied troops in Japan. We had an industrial society that had collapsed. (Mainly, of course, because we bombed the living hell out of that society.) Japan *needed* rebuilding, or vast millions would die from starvation.

Furthermore, the basically totalitarian leaders who'd brought Japan into the war were few, and after the war, generally hated. So, there wasn't a core to build an insurgency upon. We generally respected the Japanese. We got the trains running, we brought food and more food, we made only a few conditions on the new government*, and otherwise let the Japanese build their own government.

We started the rebuilding, then we let the Japanese help, then we helped the Japanese, then we stepped back and let them do it. By the end, we were just watching.

When MacArthur was given command of the occupation, his very first two orders were no Allied personnel will assault the people of Japan or eat the scarce Japanese food supplies.

Then, he got the rail network running and started bringing in food -- it would be nearly five years before the risks of starvation were gone.

The biggest change was breaking the landlord lock on the farming land. It was done legally -- we bought the land, then resold it to the peasant farmers living on it for a fraction of the purchase cost. What this did was put millions on the Allied side -- they were now landowners because of the Allies.

But, in general -- Japan knew they needed our help to survive, and MacArthur danced a very fine line between allow Japan to be Japan, and to make sure that Japan would not plunge the US into a war like the one just fought ever again. And, by and large, he pulled it off.

There were real problems. There were rapes and killings, but the Japanese saw that when Allied troops were named, there was an investigation, a trial, and if convicted, punishments. This fit well with historical Japanese society.

But most of all -- 仕方がない. Shikata ga nai -- "nothing can be done about it." The Japanese realized they were well and truly beaten, and if they didn't like something the Allied Occupational Government was doing, well, shikata ga nai. Rather than being bitter about it, they just accepted is as what it was and got on with life.


* The big two -- there will be a republic, not a monarchy, and there will be no state religion. No, this does not mean you cannot have an emperor, if you need help with that, the Brits can show you how to work it.
posted by eriko at 10:11 AM on March 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


I live in a sunbelt city, and I knew that something had gone seriously, absurdly wrong with our country's political process when a woman from the southern part of my state drove into the middle of town during a protest against the Iraq war and put her 5 kids in the bed of her pickup. Each was holding a Pro-Iraq war sign, and her eldest son of about 18 had walked out into the middle of a busy intersection with a bull horn screaming "Bomb Saddam! Bomb Saddam! Bomb Saddam!"

I'll never forget it.
posted by anewnadir at 10:14 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The lesson I learned from the Iraq War is that it's okay to be anti-war, and that war-mongers are generally not to be trusted. I wish something that obvious hadn't come to me at such a terrible cost, but given a costly lesson, I think it's better to learn the lesson then to ignore it. And I really, really hope that my country's memory is not so short that we do the same thing in Iran."

jcreigh, it's always heartening to hear people who are willing to confront reality and follow the facts where it leads them, even if it means changing what you believe and even who you are.

Unfortunately, it's not a question of memory but of the basic interests of the US. To paraphrase from Battlestar Galactica, all this has happened before, all this will happen again. What was done around Iraq (and Vietnam, and Panama, and Grenada, and Indonesia, and El Salvador, and Chile, and ... you get the idea) is now being done around Iran. Whether they succeed will have a lot to with the extent to which people who recognize what is going down speak, and act. out.
posted by williampratt at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2012


dibblda writes "I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan."

Nation building Germany was a less than stellar success at least as far as 1989. The tension with the Soviets kept America on target and committed to the process.
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2012


Only ten?

Really.

How nice for you.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:27 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan

For me, this one's obvious.

In WWII, they started it. In the case of Vietnam and Iraq, we just showed up there, destroyed their countries and then tried to rebuild.

Yes, specious, I know.

posted by Rash at 10:28 AM on March 24, 2012


"As the talking points for Libya pivoted seamlessly from protecting civilians to deposing Qaddafi.

People here seemed to ride it out smoothly enough.
"

And, frankly, it seems to have worked out OK. A limited support mission, no occupation, and it definitely saved more civilian lives than it cost.

See, that's the problem with being glib and simplistic about military intervention: It means that when you do happen to be right (Iraq) people ignore you because they know that you're just against all of it on principle, and are willing to distort and mock rather than making a fair argument.
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wait thinking about to complete nonsense spouted by otherwise normal apolitical figures after they lost their minds: Did James Lileks ever respond to Getting Every Single Thing Wrong re: the Iraq War?
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office [in Washington]) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened."

Can we still send them to that desert island anyway? Please?
posted by Skeptic at 10:43 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Skeptic: ""Can we still send them to that desert island anyway? Please"

Let's try something else. That would do terrible things to the desert island, and not terrible-enough things to the people in question.
posted by barnacles at 10:45 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.

Simple: the Germans and Japanese may not have been super-happy about being occupied by the US, but they still found it a much better deal than being occupied by the Soviet Union.
posted by Skeptic at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


And, frankly, it seems to have worked out OK

---

Echoing similar criticisms aired this month by Russia, Amnesty said scores of Libyans, who were not involved in the conflict, had been killed or injured in NATO bombings but there had been no proper investigations into their deaths.

---

Armed militia groups in Libya that formed along tribal lines after the ouster of the Moammar Gadhafi regime have turned on one another and now rule most of the country, torturing their opponents with impunity, Amnesty International says.

See, that's the problem with being glib and simplistic about military intervention.
posted by Trurl at 10:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan

iraq wasn't a real nation to begin with, just a post-colonial collection of people who hated one another

when faced with the choice between nation building and chaos, the iraqis chose chaos, because various elements thought it would be to their benefit

the germans and japanese chose nation-building because they already had chaos and were scared stiff and exhausted by it and no one thought it would be to their benefit

also, the response of the ww2 americans to a similar insurgency would have probably been ruthless compared to our actions in iraq and everyone knew it
posted by pyramid termite at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


jcreigh: one small correction. The original purpose of the Iraq War was to punish Saddam Hussein for his involvement with Al Qaeda and his support of terrorism. The WMD story, and the subsequent nation building fabrication came quickly after that.

Dick Cheney on Mohommad Atta

I wish there had been some journalistic integrity after 9/11 so people could have been properly informed about the realities of secular Ba'athism and the Sunni minority being the arch enemy of organizations like Al Qaeda, especially given Saddam's prime motive of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the US and Britain, but our entire political system failed after 9/11. Every single bit of it.
posted by deanklear at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the talking points for Libya pivoted seamlessly from protecting civilians to deposing Qaddafi.

You're moving the goalposts again in your response to klang, Trurl. Comparing Libya to Iraq isn't even apples to oranges, it's apples to baroque architecture or something.

And this is from someone who took to the streets in DC to march against the myopic turd of a policy known as the war against Iraq. If you're going to discuss this article on Iraq, discuss it. If you have a salient point to make about Iraq vis-a-vis Libya, do it. Otherwise, what's with the noise?
posted by joe lisboa at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


As the New York Times' Thomas Friedman told Ha'aretz in May 2003: "Iraq was the war neoconservatives wanted... the war the neoconservatives marketed.... I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office [in Washington]) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened."

The way Friedman thinks he can absolve himself of any responsibility here is just adorable.
posted by naoko at 11:09 AM on March 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


As the talking points for Libya pivoted seamlessly from protecting civilians to deposing Qaddafi.

Shielding civilians is the reason why Gadafi was deposed. Regardless of the longterm outcome, leaving him in place would have been a bloodbath. His deposition was more like another roll of the dice when you know you've already lost, not a guaranteed win.
posted by Jehan at 11:12 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the talking points for Libya pivoted seamlessly from protecting civilians to deposing Qaddafi.

Yeah, what Jehan said. There is nothing to pivot from or to since the goal of the mission was always the same: prevent Qaddafi from butchering any more civilians. I appreciate your usually well-deserved cynicism about American military interventionism abroad, Trurl, but I think you're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, here.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:33 AM on March 24, 2012


Why did America bungle so badly what it do so well in Germany/Japan?

One word: Russia.

Americans always tend to forget that the vast majority of the blood, sweat and tears shed during the war against Germany were extracted from Soviet bodies. And when the tanks stopped rolling and VE day was declared, more than three quarters of the Allied forces occupying the rubble of the Third Reich were Soviet. And at the end of the war? Millions of soldiers stationed in the wreckage of Germany for many subsequent years kept the memory fresh among the defeated.

Again, Japan: it wasn't the atom bombs that brought them to the negotiating table — Japan had already been fire bombed extensively — so much as the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation of August 9th, 1945, in which the full might of the Red Army slammed into the Japanese forces in Manchuria, leading to the total defeat of the Japanese army in China and the spectre of a Soviet invasion of Japan.

(Oh, finally? Both Germany and Japan were imperial nations with a fairly strong sense of national identity. Whereas Iraq was, like Yugoslavia, a patchwork spliced out of former principalities of an earlier, collapsed empire and presided over by a Strong Man who held things together by smashing skulls. You can't expect the citizens of a nation to recognize their defeat if they don't recognize the nation as having any legitimacy in the first place. Removing the strong man doesn't leave a nice, pliable decapitated body politic: it leaves anarchy.)
posted by cstross at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


Given the stakes involved, it is remarkable how little serious debate there actually was about the decision to invade. This was a bipartisan failure, as both conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats all tended to jump onboard the bandwagon to war. And mainstream media organizations became cheerleaders rather than critics. Even within the halls of government, individuals who questioned the wisdom of the invasion or raised doubts about the specific plans were soon marginalized. As a result, not only did the United States make a bone-headed decision, but the Bush administration went into Iraq unprepared for the subsequent occupation.
That's the thing that lots of democrats tend to forget. Most of the dem leadership voted for the war and supported it, at least at the outset.
While the US military has formally ended its occupation of Iraq, some of the largest western oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, remain.

On November 27, 38 months after Royal Dutch Shell announced its pursuit of a massive gas deal in southern Iraq, the oil giant had its contract signed for a $17bn flared gas deal.
Except the Russians and Chinese are also there. It wouldn't be surprising to see a joint Iran/Iraq oil company at some point in the future either.
I'm curious as to why we so badly bungled nation building in Iraq but did such a decent job in Germany and Japan.
1) In Germany we had completely destroyed the country. There was nothing left to fight for, and ultimately we were 'culturally similar' to pre-nazi Germany. The Americans wouldn't have felt like interlopers. A huge part, as well, would have been the fact that there weren't any ethic factions fighting over stuff.
2) In Japan, there was a clear surrender by the emperor, who the Japanese venerated. Also, no ethnic conflict. Plus, we nuked them.
I don't think you can ignore the fact that we had "won" after a bloody and all consuming war. In Iraq, we simply rolled our tanks into Baghdad, moved into Saddam's palaces, and declared ourselves in charge.
If you just walk up to someone and start ordering them around, are they going to do it? Probably not. What if, however, you beat the shit out of them first? And what if you start the fight with them and lose? And what if you feel kind of guilty about it (as in Germany)
There was also the sectarian conflict, caused by two groups who wanted to gain leverage over each other after the eventual US withdrawal.

---
The Libya thing: No one invaded Libya. The US provided logistical support, while France and the UK bombed them. All we did was support a rebel uprising that was already happening. And Libya is, today, a long way from being a happy, peaceful democracy.
posted by delmoi at 11:43 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lesson #11: When someone in power says: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." they got nothing. They were trying to draw to an inside straight and came up with junk.

Tweak the statement and it will fit in with any desperately loco statement.

Reese Witherspoon is the antichrist. You don't want the smoking gun to be total human enslavement to Satan?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is Iraq’s Arab League Summit being Overshadowed by Sectarian Violence?
posted by homunculus at 12:15 PM on March 24, 2012


Reese Witherspoon is the antichrist. You don't want the smoking gun to be total human enslavement to Satan?

That depends is she a top or a bottom?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:15 PM on March 24, 2012


As the New York Times' Thomas Friedman told Ha'aretz in May 2003: "Iraq was the war neoconservatives wanted... the war the neoconservatives marketed.... I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office [in Washington]) who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened."

The way Friedman thinks he can absolve himself of any responsibility here is just adorable.


Or maybe he just wanted to retire to a desert island...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


cstross: "One word: Russia.

Americans always tend to forget that the vast majority of the blood, sweat and tears shed during the war against Germany were extracted from Soviet bodies ...
"
Well put. The tl;dr version: Germany and Japan worked because there was a bogeyman to animate the local population into cooperation with US occupation forces. Now, the US has become the bogeyman.
posted by brokkr at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are a few other lessons maybe that we could take away from a foreign policy perspective. Would the South Ossetia crisis and the political sea changes in Central and South America have occurred in the same way if America hadn't already been embroiled in two regional conflicts?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:58 PM on March 24, 2012


Now, the US has become the bogeyman.

And this is precisely the thing that the average set of American eyes CANNOT see. It's cognitive dissonance that runs counter to an entire lifetime's exposure to not just official state sponsored propaganda (ie: history class) but also the vast percentage of books, movies, etc. Hell, I'm Canadian and I'm afflicted.
posted by philip-random at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Per philip-random: America's foundational myth is of liberty-loving frontiersmen rebelling against an Empire. The idea that they have become an Empire that infringes the liberty of others is, as you say, a source of insurmountable cognitive dissonance.

Not to mention Noam Chomsky's observation that in a democracy that pays lip service to free speech, the machinery of censorship has to be far more subtle than in a dictatorship where everyone expects to be lied to by the state media.
posted by cstross at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


"See, that's the problem with being glib and simplistic about military intervention."

Yes, invoking a couple of Amnesty reports about bad outcomes while ignoring the larger context is glib and simplistic. Or were you attempting a gotcha?
posted by klangklangston at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2012


"That's the thing that lots of democrats tend to forget. Most of the dem leadership voted for the war and supported it, at least at the outset."

Yeah, I really do wish that more Dems had the spine to stand up to the public and say, "Look, we got this one way wrong. We were snowed, it was a massive boondoggle, we're sorry."
posted by klangklangston at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


These lessons will be fully ignored next time.
posted by telstar at 2:07 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


These lessons were surprisingly apt. Nice article.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:22 PM on March 24, 2012


So these lessons have been identified. Will they be learned and if so, by whom?
posted by dangerousdan at 3:04 PM on March 24, 2012


These lessons will be fully ignored next time.

They will if folks don't get serious and clear and resolute on the real war being waged over here in fortress America, which is informational (ie: text books, classrooms, TV shows, movies, books, websites). It's not as exciting as guns bombs and torture but every bit as REAL.
posted by philip-random at 3:06 PM on March 24, 2012


I would differ with making a comparison with the rebuilding of Iraq and post-war Japan and Germany. Those were both industrial societies, with huge amounts of extant social capital, institutions, education, and all sorts of intangible stocks of human wealth and capacity. The physical representations of those were destroyed in the war, but in the post-war period quickly returned to pre-war trends.

Iraq was a case where you had a complete lack of internal security, regular violence, factionalization, and a near-civil war. "Nation-building" is the last thing that was happening in those circumstances.
posted by stratastar at 3:22 PM on March 24, 2012


klang, I think the issue nearly always boils down to US hypocrisy. The simple reason getting involved in Iraq and Libya were "worth it" is because of the potential effect of not being in control of those nations could have on the United States. That's why efforts in Syria and the DRC are reduced to a lot of hand wringing instead of action. The outcome of dictatorships there don't matter to the United States, at least enough to invest significant resources and manpower, so the atrocities are ignored, and are sometimes helped if it's beneficial to us.

That's not being glib, in my opinion. It's the observation of known facts about US policy, and their repetition throughout our modern history. You just have to read back to 1998 on the Bush I Administration's policy to see what our true opinion on Iraq was:
Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome.
There is no mention of freedom or democracy here. Just the realization that the expense would not be worth the outcome to the United States. To assume that our attitude towards Libya had anything to do with the lives at stake is, in my opinion, observably not true, if our very recent history is any basis for reality.

And — just by pure coincidence, of course — the side that promised to keep contracts with Western and Russian energy companies is the one that came out victorious in the revolution, aided by NATO, and backed diplomatically by Russia.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that this is not a continuation our military policy for energy security that has been the same for decades? How many Western-backed coups will occur after a leader tries to nationalize their own energy resources before it's accepted as fact that our involvement in other nations is entirely dependent on their value to us as an energy resource? That's not to say that Libya wasn't a smarter bet than Iraq. There was a real, grass roots desire to oust Gaddafi, but you'll notice our opinion on Gaddafi matched the national Libyan will only after we could benefit from it.

There was also some national Iraqi will to oust Saddam in 1990-91. If Saddam had been weaker in the first Gulf War, we may have invaded if the right people were convinced, but we left all of his enemies twisting in the wind, and then cleared him to cut them all down with helicopter gunships by opening up the airspace in the middle of the country to "non-fixed wing aircraft." (Many of which we sold to Saddam in the 80s.) That was in order to maintain stability in the greater Middle East, not to save Iraqi lives. That was also in addition to abandoning the rhetoric of ousting Saddam Hussein and preventing weapons from entering the country to help the rebellion, even after we broadcast false hope that we would help. But we watched those revolutionaries suffer for our lies with apparent indifference from just a few miles away. I hope I don't need to go into the subsequent sanctions and their effect on those same citizens that also had nothing to do with moral imperatives for the people of Iraq, but as usual, with the childish whims of Washington policy planners who wanted to punish Saddam regardless of the cost to his people.

Perhaps between 2008, when Rice visited Gaddafi and smiled next to our dear dictator for photo ops, and 2011, when we suddenly remembered that he was a brutal dictator who was murdering his citizens, the whole of American foreign policy changed from hinging on US interests to something else. But that is quite a claim, and I'd expect to see some interesting evidence to support that idea before I bought into it.

If instead your position is that we should be glad when our immoral foreign policy has an accidental benefit to the citizens of whatever nation we're invading, I'd say you are wrong, and that attitude is exactly the kind that will lead to more baseless violence and death.
posted by deanklear at 4:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


While the US military has formally ended its occupation of Iraq, some of the largest western oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, remain.

On November 27, 38 months after Royal Dutch Shell announced its pursuit of a massive gas deal in southern Iraq, the oil giant had its contract signed for a $17bn flared gas deal.

Mission Accomplished


It doesn't make sense to fund a $1 trillion war to transfer just $17 billion to an oil company - cheaper and more efficient to transfer the money using another mechanism, such as a gas subsidy.

IMHO incompetence is much more likely than malice.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you had an internet connection and an hour a day -- I did -- and you were willing to read a little bit -- I was -- you could find out lots of neat stuff in 2002 and 1003. I could write chapter and verse here but I'm not going to, I'll stick with this bit.

I watched the anti-war demonstrations, all around the country, in fact there were demonstrations against those war criminals all over the world. Millions of people marched against it. Wrote against it. Spoke out against it. Ached about it, saw it coming and knew what it was and were acheful about it.

Here's the thing: when there was an anti-war march here in Austin, when the streets were full of people and signs and there were speeches and tons of people with real passion, and real fear as to what our government was becoming, well hey, that march was Page One in the Austin American Spaceman, the local rag. There were pictures. There were interviews. There was all kinds of neat stuff.

It made the Houston Comical, front-page, but smaller, a section of the front page, though Austin is the state capital and you'd think maybe there'd be more about it, it was a large story. It made the Dallas papers pretty much the same way.

I didn't see anything about it in any other papers. Chicago. New York. LA. SF. Nowhere. It fell off the earth.

Same in Chicago, in their huge anti-war demonstrations, massive demonstrations -- front page news, huge story in Chicago blah blah. Not a blip in Texas media. Not a word.

It was that same thing in every city, in every paper.

And every paper, if I recall correctly, every paper got into lockstep and said "Hey boys, rock and roll, go kill some brown folks, and steal their fucking oil!"

We don't have a press. We don't. We do have the internet but "Ha! Ha!" so many people go to cnn or msnbc or nyt to get spoon-fed the gruel we're allotted, plus the latest shot of some moronic celeb gals thigh or whatever, maybe a new angle on the Clinton-Lewinsky story, or a picture of her purse line, Monica standing there, pensively, scratching herself.

It's all PNAC, boys and girls, go read all about it. The PNAC boys came to Clinton, he listened to what they said, smiled politely, showed them the door, called Monica probably. It was a horrible time, horrible -- gas was $0.87 a gallon, I was making 80 grand a year and maybe you were too, jobs were everywhere, it seemed there was enough money to go around, even for regular people, not just haliburton, blackwater, shell, not just siphoned up through the war machinery, the US death machine.

Aside: One of the funny things about MetaFilter is that even here, the game is played, people here call it "The Department of Defense" when every goddamn one of us knows it's "The Department of Offense," it's "The Department of Death" to any country our government/businesses decides it wants to rape. Every time I read "Department of Defense" I know that Orwell is not only spinning in his grave, he's got to be laughing his ass off, too.

Also: I find it humorous when people here look around, scratching their heads, wondering why our country is an economic wasteland now. It's all gone, it got sucked up the chain. I don't know that this country will every regain it's balance. I don't know that it should. Spain: one hundred short years ago they were a world power, they were on the map, they were A Huge Deal and now -- don't they play soccer there or something? I can never recall.

Follow the money. It'll tell you true, every time.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


It doesn't make sense to fund a $1 trillion war to transfer just $17 billion to an oil company - cheaper and more efficient to transfer the money using another mechanism, such as a gas subsidy.

It's about maintaining access to cheap energy, not by profiting from the sale thereof. I agree that the Bush II Administration was colossally stupid enough to claim that the war would last weeks and cost less than 50 billion dollars, but their goal was to demonstrate the Bush doctrine and US control over the Middle East, not to make one specific company more profit.

You'll notice the Obama administration has the exact same stance for Iran when it comes to shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.
posted by deanklear at 4:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


And every paper, if I recall correctly, every paper got into lockstep and said "Hey boys, rock and roll, go kill some brown folks, and steal their fucking oil!"

Speaking of which: Wolf Blitzer has a "terrifying new reason" for all of us to be afraid of Iran.
posted by Trurl at 4:54 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The simple reason getting involved in Iraq and Libya were "worth it" is because of the potential effect of not being in control of those nations could have on the United States. That's why efforts in Syria and the DRC are reduced to a lot of hand wringing instead of action.

To be fair, Libya has a population of 6 million and Syria has a population of 22 million so there's a difference in scale there. Iraq, for comparison, has 31 million.

A military intervention in Syria could end up like Libya or could end up like Iraq. The potential rewards of another Syria seem small compared to the potential costs of another Iraq.

It's about maintaining access to cheap energy, not by profiting from the sale thereof.

Perhaps - but I'm not sure I'd say mission accomplished if that was the goal as gas prices are almost as high as they've ever been. I suppose they might have been even higher had the Iraq war not happened.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:02 PM on March 24, 2012


As Displaced Return to Iraq, New Tensions for Neighbors
posted by homunculus at 5:17 PM on March 24, 2012


PNAC letter to Clinton, January 1998
posted by dancestoblue at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2012


A military intervention in Syria could end up like Libya or could end up like Iraq. The potential rewards of another Syria seem small compared to the potential costs of another Iraq.

That's exactly the point. Iraq was worth the risk because of its resources. Syria is, for American policy planners, largely irrelevant as long as their violence stays within their own borders. To claim we care more about rights of citizens of those countries than we do about the possible effect of their independence on our national interests is transparently a lie, as demonstrated by decades of foreign policy.
posted by deanklear at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


So after the US had been in Iraq a couple years, I really started to genuinely wonder what else my talk radio host friends were wrong about.

Yeah, the main thing that attracts me to the left is not ideology...I have a big libertarian streak going on, but liberals have this strange habit of always being right about stuff that makes it hard for anyone not blinded by ideology not to eventually drift towards their side.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:41 PM on March 24, 2012


It doesn't make sense to fund a $1 trillion war to transfer just $17 billion to an oil company

It makes sense if it's someone else's trillion, and you and your friends and all your families get a cut of the profits. Forever.

I can't imagine who these are "lessons" for. Millions of us predicted the outcome, and those who wanted the war will never admit they were disastrously wrong about everything.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


11. Blatant war crime goes unpunished if it is committed or sanctioned by a senior US or British politician.
posted by Decani at 3:15 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


War crimes trials are for losers, not winners
posted by Renoroc at 7:44 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps - but I'm not sure I'd say mission accomplished if that was the goal as gas prices are almost as high as they've ever been. I suppose they might have been even higher had the Iraq war not happened.

Feature, not a bug. Why would cheap gas prices you and I pay be among the war's goals? The mission was to secure years and years of record-setting profits

From the POV of Oil & War Co, you and I are not "us." We're "them."
posted by notyou at 8:01 AM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"That's exactly the point. Iraq was worth the risk because of its resources. Syria is, for American policy planners, largely irrelevant as long as their violence stays within their own borders. To claim we care more about rights of citizens of those countries than we do about the possible effect of their independence on our national interests is transparently a lie, as demonstrated by decades of foreign policy."

Well, no. First off, you're making the assumption that the only option the US has is military intervention, which isn't true. Economic sanctions are already in place, and the US continues to mount diplomatic efforts to remove Assad.

Secondly, there's one huge difference between US military planning for Syria and Libya — Syria's fighting is almost entirely urban, rather the open field theater of Libya. The reason why this makes a huge difference is that the US's most effective tactical capability is air strikes and air support. The biggest effect that Western intervention in Libya had was neutralizing armored convoys and large artillery. That means that military intervention in Syria would have to be boots on the ground, something that risks far more in terms of American lives and without an overwhelming force, something that's unlikely to materially change the situation on the ground.

The problem is that you keep starting with your conclusion that the US is a corrupt, evil nation and then begging the question to get back there, instead of realizing that not all other countries are the same, not all other dictators are the same, that given limited resources and ability it may not be possible to depose all of them, that self-interest does not inherently negate altruism, and that not all US foreign policy decisions are made on the basis of evil over practicality.

The realists, of which Bush I was part, were against a protracted war in Iraq. The neo-conservatives were a bunch of idealists that forgot or ignored practical considerations in pushing for the invasion of Iraq, and used inflated promises of reward to bring around some of the few realists left in Bush's cabinet. But the argument that we went into Iraq because of oil or whatever misses the fact that the folks leading the charge didn't care about practical rewards at all, really.

Finally, it's entirely possible to be for the intervention in Libya, yet against those in Iraq or Syria — Juan Cole is one Middle East scholar that takes that position.
posted by klangklangston at 11:56 AM on March 25, 2012


The problem is that you keep starting with your conclusion that the US is a corrupt, evil nation and then begging the question to get back there

My position is that the United States is as corrupt and evil as any other empire, but have fun playing with the straw men.

Also, if examining the recent historical record of American foreign policy in the same geographic region is begging the question, how would you decide if America was exceptional or not? By just going with what felt right?
posted by deanklear at 1:08 PM on March 25, 2012


But the argument that we went into Iraq because of oil or whatever misses the fact that the folks leading the charge didn't care about practical rewards at all, really.

Why did we, anyway?

Difficulty: Under the presumption the US is not a corrupt, evil nation.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:18 PM on March 25, 2012


America is a nation that has done corrupt and evil things, but other things too. Kind of like the Romans.
posted by philip-random at 3:18 PM on March 25, 2012


Yes, they aren't cartoon super-villains, that's for sure. So, why were we in Iraq?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2012


Because the cartoon super-villains got hold of the reins in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
posted by philip-random at 5:01 PM on March 25, 2012


And in 2004?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:03 PM on March 25, 2012


"My position is that the United States is as corrupt and evil as any other empire, but have fun playing with the straw men."

Which is, again, simplistic. Britain wasn't Rome; the Mongols weren't Spain; the Ottomans weren't the Carolingians.

"Also, if examining the recent historical record of American foreign policy in the same geographic region is begging the question, how would you decide if America was exceptional or not? By just going with what felt right?"

I have no idea what you mean by this. I assume it's supposed to be sarcastic, but I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

"Why did we, anyway?"

This is a pretty good article on the Neocon underpinnings to the Iraq invasion.

The short answer is that the primary reasons the US invaded Iraq were to defend US national security and promote democracy abroad.

Pretty much the exact reasons Bush et al. gave us again and again for invading Iraq. That it may have lowered oil prices or provided military industrial complex contracts to cronies or strengthened Bush's approval ratings were all seen as bonuses, but the primary reasons were the ones that were given.

If you're maybe meaning broader reasons, hubris and incompetence are probably the biggest ones.
posted by klangklangston at 5:42 PM on March 25, 2012


The PNAC's stated goal was "to promote American global leadership."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:46 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


War is always good business for some, so you can't rule that out. Or as an old friend (a Vietnam vet incidentally) pointed out during the first Gulf War (1991), sometimes a military industrial complex as huge as America's just needs a war, any war. Because if it doesn't have one, then all the money and resources it takes to sustain such a huge military presence will go to other areas.
posted by philip-random at 6:46 PM on March 25, 2012


the devil is nothing if not pragmatic
posted by philip-random at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2012


Which is, again, simplistic. Britain wasn't Rome; the Mongols weren't Spain; the Ottomans weren't the Carolingians.

Oh my God, you're kidding me! I thought they were all exactly alike?!

I have no idea what you mean by this. I assume it's supposed to be sarcastic, but I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

Instead of talking about the recent historical record in the Middle East for our interventionist wars, including declassified documents, statements from American leaders and players at that time, as well as the opinion of historians who cover that era, you'd like to talk about something else. Anything else. Mongols, Ottomans, Carolingians. Labeling arguments as simplistic without responding to them. Anything that will step away from the historical record, and towards the idea of America that you'd like to be true, instead of the one that is recorded in historical fact.

So when America repeatedly overthrows nations, regardless of their system of government, every time a leader threatens to nationalize resources or otherwise harm American interests, while simultaneously supporting unspeakable brutality in nations as long as their leaders are paying attention to American interests, rational people draw a pattern from this behavior beyond coincidence. All empires claim good intentions while they ransack client states. It's so integral to American foreign policy that apparently you can't even see it. Let me illustrate that with an example:

If China becomes dependent on American natural gas in 30 years, and we threaten to stop delivery, and they invade and occupy American soil because we are harming Chinese interests, is that imperialism?

Now trade in the United States and Iraq/Iran/Vietnam/Afghanistan and ask the same question. If you get a different answer, you're doing it wrong, if sovereignty and law have any meaning. Perhaps you think America's invasion of other nations without provocation to "protect our interests" is a valid reason to go to war, and not raw unmistakable imperialism, but I doubt you'd support that right for another nation treating the United States in such a way.

We did not invade any of these places because we thought it was the right thing to do. We did it because there was an upside for us: containment of communism, access to resources, or whatever. Of course we came up with a propaganda model to hide the actual motivations. That's what nations do: whatever is necessary to serve their self interest, including lying to the general public if most of the benefit lands at the elite end of the spectrum.

I'm not saying America is the worst imperial power the world has known, I'm saying it's one of the few imperial powers remaining, and imperialism is wrong. Extraordinary renditions are wrong. Planning the overthrow of democratic governments is wrong. Denying money to UNESCO (and thus denying money to children for food and education) is wrong. Assassinating people who aren't given a fair trial is wrong. Piloting drones over sovereign territory and killing civilians is wrong. Supporting Saddam Hussein, Mubarak, and the House of Saud is wrong.

These are things that no one would allow on US soil, but we expect other nations to accept because We Say So. If you can't understand this basic concept, then I'm at a loss on how to communicate the simple principle that violating another nation's sovereignty and meddling in their affairs in a way we wouldn't want done on our own soil is the height of hypocrisy, the very definition of imperialism, and wrong, even if the United States is the perpetrator.
posted by deanklear at 5:29 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Anything that will step away from the historical record, and towards the idea of America that you'd like to be true, instead of the one that is recorded in historical fact."

I'm sorry, talking about currently existing sanctions, the neocon rationale for the Iraq invasion, and about differences in foreign policy toward Libya, Syria and Iraq is actually talking about fact. Your allegation here is simply nonsense.

"So when America repeatedly overthrows nations, regardless of their system of government, every time a leader threatens to nationalize resources or otherwise harm American interests,"

Speaking of "toward the idea of America that you'd like to be true," this is also nonsense. I know the point you'd like to make, but instead of making the limited true point about American interference in foreign domestic politics, you're overstating based on your own confirmation bias. There are literally thousands of examples of countries acting to the detriment of US interests (even nationalizing industries) that did not lead to overthrows. Be honest.

"while simultaneously supporting unspeakable brutality in nations as long as their leaders are paying attention to American interests, rational people draw a pattern from this behavior beyond coincidence. "

Sure, if you ignore the counter examples and the fact that the US has often (usually due to domestic priorities changing) repudiated or undercut or even sanctioned regimes for brutality even if that undercut US interests. As usual, the situation is complicated, and not helped by your confirmation bias.

"All empires claim good intentions while they ransack client states. It's so integral to American foreign policy that apparently you can't even see it."

One of the most obnoxious habits of ideologues is assuming that their opponents must be blind rather than simply disagreeing. Not only does it make you look foolish, but it makes your arguments weaker and me respect you less. There is literally not a single thing you have written here that I did not already know.

"If China becomes dependent on American natural gas in 30 years, and we threaten to stop delivery, and they invade and occupy American soil because we are harming Chinese interests, is that imperialism?"

Man, it's so rare that you actually see a question begged. Depends on your definition of imperialism (and about twenty different factors unspecified in your hypothetical, like the relationship of China to the US at that junction). I don't mean to sound condescending, but this is one of those times where if you'd approached this like a normal conversation or like constructing a serious argument, instead of a hectoring lecture, I might just say, "Sure, I'll concede that for the sake of argument," but now, well, might as well make you work for it.

"Now trade in the United States and Iraq/Iran/Vietnam/Afghanistan and ask the same question. If you get a different answer, you're doing it wrong, if sovereignty and law have any meaning."

But see, this is what you get when you beg a question. My answer was, "It depends." Now, is that different for Iraq/Afghanistan/Vietnam? Well, kinda, in that I think it's actually more likely to be imperialism. But apparently, that's doing it wrong "if sovereignty and law have any meaning." (And that's leaving aside the whole raft of assumptions you're making about sovereignty and law.)

"Perhaps you think America's invasion of other nations without provocation to "protect our interests" is a valid reason to go to war, and not raw unmistakable imperialism, but I doubt you'd support that right for another nation treating the United States in such a way."

Weren't you the one bitching earlier about straw men? I mean, I'm sure in your fevered brain, you've got me supporting the invasion of Iraq and Vietnam and probably blame me for the invasion of Mexico too, but it's got nothing to do with what I've written.

"We did not invade any of these places because we thought it was the right thing to do. We did it because there was an upside for us: containment of communism, access to resources, or whatever. "

Here we have the fallacy that lies at the basis of all of your comments about the US: Something can be both the right thing to do and benefit us. Even further, something can be both the right thing to do for the people of a foreign country and benefit us. Positioning them as always opposed is absurd nonsense.

(And that's before we even get into how you're begging the question again on how every action has an ulterior motive rather than publicly stated ones.)

"Of course we came up with a propaganda model to hide the actual motivations. That's what nations do: whatever is necessary to serve their self interest, including lying to the general public if most of the benefit lands at the elite end of the spectrum."

Do you ever start out with evidence and then use it to prove a conclusion, or do you always start out with a conclusion and search for evidence to confirm it, including habitually relying on the idea that everyone else is lying about their motivations?

"I'm not saying America is the worst imperial power the world has known, I'm saying it's one of the few imperial powers remaining, and imperialism is wrong."

Meh. Imperialism is complicated. Calling it wrong out of hand either requires you to start with a definition of imperialism that necessitates that conclusion, or to demonstrate that despite the advantages that empires bestow, the consequences always outweigh the benefits. I have no problem with arguments that start out by defining their terms in ways that I think are simplified but necessary for the argument, so long as the term isn't then generalized out of the specific argument, but you haven't done that. You also haven't demonstrated that the utility of imperialism is negative.

"Extraordinary renditions are wrong. Planning the overthrow of democratic governments is wrong. Denying money to UNESCO (and thus denying money to children for food and education) is wrong. Assassinating people who aren't given a fair trial is wrong. Piloting drones over sovereign territory and killing civilians is wrong. Supporting Saddam Hussein, Mubarak, and the House of Saud is wrong."

Many — even most — of those points are ones that I agree on. However, they're non sequitors for the statement that "Imperialism is wrong." (Also, just to be fair, you should also recognize that UNESCO is a tool of Western imperialism. Just like the Peace Corps.)

"These are things that no one would allow on US soil, but we expect other nations to accept because We Say So."

I'm pretty sure that plenty of people on US soil would be fine with not supporting UNESCO, or even US domestic aid programs.

"If you can't understand this basic concept, then I'm at a loss on how to communicate the simple principle that violating another nation's sovereignty and meddling in their affairs in a way we wouldn't want done on our own soil is the height of hypocrisy, the very definition of imperialism, and wrong, even if the United States is the perpetrator."

Once again, it's not that I can't understand your arguments, it's that I don't think they're very good ones and that I think your condescending tone is obnoxious and ill-supported by the substance of your comments. You make an incredible number of assumptions about me and my beliefs, lecture me based on those presumptions (with total disregard to what my beliefs actually are), and then huff yourself into a fit over your inability to convince me? Am I supposed to take that seriously?
posted by klangklangston at 8:05 PM on March 27, 2012


I'm sorry, talking about currently existing sanctions, the neocon rationale for the Iraq invasion, and about differences in foreign policy toward Libya, Syria and Iraq is actually talking about fact. Your allegation here is simply nonsense.
Nonsense?
Prior to his election as Vice President, Dick Cheney, then-CEO of Halliburton, in a speech at the Institute of Petroleum in 1999 demonstrated a keen awareness of the sensitive economic and geopolitical role of Middle East oil resources saying: ‘‘By 2010, we will need on the order of an additional 50 million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and national oil companies are obviously controlling about 90 percent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies. Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow.’’
Those three examples prove my point: our capital and political investment in the affairs of there nations are directly proportional to how much they affect US interests. Syria matters enough to impose sanctions. Libya matters enough to back a NATO mission. Iraq mattered enough to spend three trillion dollars and ruin what little was left of our reputation abroad for a decade.

When you examine the history of those nations more closely, the picture is even more clear. The United States was very friendly to the Assad regime after the Hama massacres when they were helping out with the hostage crisis. We willingly flipped the "dual use" terminology to deny Iraqi citizens vital necessities to punish Saddam Hussein in the 90s, just after we handed Saddam chemical weapons and the financing necessary to wage war to punish Iran in the 80s, just before we suddenly began to care about the Iraqi people again in the New American Century.
Speaking of "toward the idea of America that you'd like to be true," this is also nonsense. I know the point you'd like to make, but instead of making the limited true point about American interference in foreign domestic politics, you're overstating based on your own confirmation bias. There are literally thousands of examples of countries acting to the detriment of US interests (even nationalizing industries) that did not lead to overthrows. Be honest.
It's easier to claim thousands than to list ten, because providing those examples would be like listing nations that were in the Coalition of the Willing. Costa Rica! Palau! Denmark! Look at our vast network of international support!
Sure, if you ignore the counter examples and the fact that the US has often (usually due to domestic priorities changing) repudiated or undercut or even sanctioned regimes for brutality even if that undercut US interests. As usual, the situation is complicated, and not helped by your confirmation bias.
Again, list your examples. You can claim the United States undercuts its own interests for humanitarian purposes, but the examples would immediately prove my point that those nations are meaningless compared to the importance of oil security and containment of communism during the cold war.

I don't say this because I claim to know about every exception. I claim this because I know all of the major conflicts in the Postwar Era, their human and monetary costs, and I know the rest (unless there are huge hidden portions of our military budget) are tiny fractions of that total.
Man, it's so rare that you actually see a question begged. Depends on your definition of imperialism (and about twenty different factors unspecified in your hypothetical, like the relationship of China to the US at that junction). I don't mean to sound condescending, but this is one of those times where if you'd approached this like a normal conversation or like constructing a serious argument, instead of a hectoring lecture, I might just say, "Sure, I'll concede that for the sake of argument," but now, well, might as well make you work for it.
I prefer principle instead of soft intellectualism.
Weren't you the one bitching earlier about straw men? I mean, I'm sure in your fevered brain, you've got me supporting the invasion of Iraq and Vietnam and probably blame me for the invasion of Mexico too, but it's got nothing to do with what I've written.
You haven't written anything meaningful. You keep claiming that America isn't an imperialist nation, but you're unwilling to give me a metric to reach that same conclusion. My metric is simple: I ignore official propaganda, and I count dollars, lives spent, and internal communications, just as I'd do for any other nation.
Here we have the fallacy that lies at the basis of all of your comments about the US: Something can be both the right thing to do and benefit us. Even further, something can be both the right thing to do for the people of a foreign country and benefit us. Positioning them as always opposed is absurd nonsense.
I didn't say they were always opposed. I said when it's really a choice, America chooses its own interests, just as any other state would.
(And that's before we even get into how you're begging the question again on how every action has an ulterior motive rather than publicly stated ones.)

Do you ever start out with evidence and then use it to prove a conclusion, or do you always start out with a conclusion and search for evidence to confirm it, including habitually relying on the idea that everyone else is lying about their motivations?
So when Assad says he's merely stabilizing his government against terrorists, you just accept him at his word? Come off it, man. No one who's serious about the truth swallows the head and tail of government propaganda, even if it's from the United States.
Meh. Imperialism is complicated. Calling it wrong out of hand either requires you to start with a definition of imperialism that necessitates that conclusion, or to demonstrate that despite the advantages that empires bestow, the consequences always outweigh the benefits. I have no problem with arguments that start out by defining their terms in ways that I think are simplified but necessary for the argument, so long as the term isn't then generalized out of the specific argument, but you haven't done that. You also haven't demonstrated that the utility of imperialism is negative.

Many — even most — of those points are ones that I agree on. However, they're non sequitors for the statement that "Imperialism is wrong." (Also, just to be fair, you should also recognize that UNESCO is a tool of Western imperialism. Just like the Peace Corps.)
You can dress up that pig all you want. Do you really need someone to prove to you that the "utility of imperialism is negative" before you say that invading another nation and forcing them to give up their rights and resources is wrong? At this point I can't tell if you're being serious.
Once again, it's not that I can't understand your arguments, it's that I don't think they're very good ones and that I think your condescending tone is obnoxious and ill-supported by the substance of your comments. You make an incredible number of assumptions about me and my beliefs, lecture me based on those presumptions (with total disregard to what my beliefs actually are), and then huff yourself into a fit over your inability to convince me? Am I supposed to take that seriously?
Don't take me seriously, then. Just list all of the selfless US military interventions you'd like, and we'll compare that with the expenditures America has laid out in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Egypt, etc., and we'll see where the priorities are according to our pocketbooks.

After that, you can continue to claim that intellectual acrobatics are a substitute for values, but at least you won't be able to deny that our rhetoric has little to do with our actions.
posted by deanklear at 7:07 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can't speak for Klang and I'm not American anyway, but I suspect the only functional response to ...

at least you won't be able to deny that our rhetoric has little to do with our actions.

... is that sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.
posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on March 28, 2012


"You can dress up that pig all you want. Do you really need someone to prove to you that the "utility of imperialism is negative" before you say that invading another nation and forcing them to give up their rights and resources is wrong? At this point I can't tell if you're being serious."

Look, I was going to go through again and show how what you're spouting is idiotic false dichotomy nonsense, but I think that this quote is emblematic.

In it, you ignore that under a definition of imperialism broad enough to encompass all of your claims, you have to recognize that cultural imperialism is also a factor, which would include UNESCO and the Peace Corps — neither of which are going into another state and forcing them to give up rights and resources. Instead of responding to what I've written, you go off on rhetorical questions predicated on unstated assumptions about a definition of imperialism that's limited only by whatever you need your argument to look like at the moment.

You are so devoted to your simplistic worldview that you are unable to conceive that people would have thoughts outside of it without either being mendacious or duplicitous.

I don't know whether you're not bright enough to think through what I've been saying, or whether I haven't been clear enough — I do think I've been rather exhaustive — or whether you simply have too much of your identity bound up in your narrow equation of foreign policy to actually spend a moment thinking about it critically, but this conversation really isn't going anywhere. Whether it's because you don't understand them, or whether it's because you're unable to respond cogently, you haven't addressed a single one of my points. As such, if you have questions or clarifications, I'm happy to give you more elucidation, but I'm not going to continue pretending that you have anything but the rote scrawls of freshman lefty dogma to offer. Philip-random summed up my position well enough; yours is incoherent and unworthy of further attention.
posted by klangklangston at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2012


Instead of writing all of that accusatory nonsense, you could have posted your top ten (or even five) American military interventions that were done purely on humanitarian grounds. I'll accept that I'm an idiot, and not "worthy" of your attention, if you'll supply that list.
posted by deanklear at 1:17 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, if you post your top ten US military interventions that had absolutely no humanitarian justifications at all.

(Or you can finally get the point that humanitarian motivation is not opposed to other motivations, nor need be "pure" in order to be important. That's your contention that I find idiotic.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:17 PM on March 28, 2012


It's important. It's the difference between humanitarian justification and humanitarian excuse.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:27 AM on March 29, 2012


Sure, if you post your top ten US military interventions that had absolutely no humanitarian justifications at all.

There are few instances in which the primary stated goal was humanitarian intervention. The only ones that come to mind are Somalia and Yugoslavia.

Just look at the largest wars and proxy wars, in order:

1) 1950 — Korean War — Containment
2) 1950s-1975 — Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia — Containment
3) 1979-1988 — Afghanistan — Containment (more crudely, "giving Russia their Vietnam")
4) 1980-1988 — Iran-Iraq War — Containment, oil security, regional balance of power after the Iranian puppet government was overthrown
5) 1991 — Operation Desert Storm — oil security for friendly Arab states
6) 1991-2003 — sanctions against Iraq — oil security for friendly Arab states
7) 2001-present — Afghanistan — "bringing terrorists to justice"
8) 2003-2011 — Iraq — WMDs "the single question" according to the Bush Administration

I could easily do another dozen or so for smaller interventions, but they would pale in comparison to the size and scope of those wars. Just to give you enough to get to ten, here are our most blatant:

9) 1953 — Iran — Ouster of the elected government of Iran to prevent nationalization of oil resources. The CIA installs former Nazis to the positions of Prime Minister (Fazlollah Zahedi) and Oil Secretary (Sharif-Emami) and US support of the Shah spans decades of oppression and murder

10) 1970s — Chile — The Nixon Administration conspires to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende as part of their policy on containment.

"Make the economy scream... prevent Allende from coming to power."
— notes from Richard Nixon

"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."
— Henry Kissinger

And now, we can bring this full circle with the Bush-Aznar memo:
Bush compares this waiting game [concerning Iraq] to "Chinese water torture," and that he will not wait past the middle of March.

Bush says he will put pressure on countries to get their support. He says he will cut off foreign aid to Angola and stop the ratification of a free trade agreement with Chile.

Aznar asks if there is a chance that Hussein will go into exile. Bush responds that it is a possibility, and that Hussein may even be assassinated. Bush says he expects to discover more of Hussein's hidden crimes, and will then take him to an international court in The Hague.

Aznar says that the best outcome would be a bloodless victory. Bush, acknowledging the death and destruction of war, agrees. "Moreover, it would save $50 billion."
American foreign policy, as a matter of historical record, is a reckless attempt to control other nations through violence and economic punishment to achieve goals important to the United States. This is commonly known as imperialism.

If you have evidence of internal records showing that our intent was humanitarian for any of those conflicts, please provide them. I'm not interested in public propaganda. Every imperialist empire has that.
posted by deanklear at 6:13 AM on March 29, 2012


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