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Where's the exit?
June 21, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

The debate over exit strategies for Iraq. Stephen Biddle. The biggest problem with treating Iraq like Vietnam is Iraqization -- the main component of the current U.S. military strategy. In a people's war, handing the fighting off to local forces makes sense because it undermines the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improves the quality of local intelligence, and boosts troop strength. But in a communal civil war, it throws gasoline on the fire. Iraq's Sunnis perceive the "national" army and police force as a Shiite-Kurdish militia on steroids. Biddle also emphasizes the need for a compromise based on a constitutional deal with ironclad power-sharing arrangements protecting all parties. Roundtable responses from Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, and Leslie Gelb. Anthony Cordesman, who anticipated the current situation (PDF), emphasizes the need for ongoing US involvement in the region. Daniel Benjamin is pessimistic, describing the US as being in a no-win situation whether it stays or leaves. A list of proposed exit strategies collected by the Project for Defense Alternatives. The Onion.
posted by russilwvong (93 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
My attempt to raise the level of the public debate from "stay the course" vs. "cut and run."
posted by russilwvong at 10:15 AM on June 21, 2006


... and I promise not to post any more Iraq-related material for a while.
posted by russilwvong at 10:17 AM on June 21, 2006


Russilwong writes "and I promise not to post any more Iraq-related material for a while"

It's a good post, with links and different point of view, good job ! Don't worry about whiners bitching about iraq and yadda yadda yadda, let em bitch it's what they are good at.

Back on the topic: whatever the outcome, no exist strategy is going to repair the complete utter disillusion in american lost moral high ground. Maybe this is good.
posted by elpapacito at 10:38 AM on June 21, 2006


No worries Either way.

Its a fair question, what are the options between those to "extremes"

I for one am leaning to perhaps a regional peace keeping force not related to the U.S. but it seems that could be impossible to pull off, NO one in that region seems to want the U.S. to look like a winner in this. We have burned all those bridges early in the fight. Pulling out altogether and letting the "inevitable" civil war run its course may be the most palatable of all the bad options.

Option 1 Stay the course, (no real end, no real purpose, other than a hidden one maybe)

Option 2 Slow draw down (vietnimization) That never worked.

Option 3 Real multi-national "Non-US" peace keeping (Best Option) no one will help us out of this mess) so not an option

Option 4 Gradual Draw down as the civil war escalates. (Think Lebanon type of war) Good for US baaaaaaaad for them.

Option 5 increase troops so we CAN enforce peace (we'll be there for decades) A sure fire way to lose the election for the repubs.

on the record, I don;t think there is an easy way out of this mess.


feel free to add or critique..
posted by Elim at 10:41 AM on June 21, 2006


Well said, elpapacito.
posted by Elim at 10:42 AM on June 21, 2006


"stay the course" vs. "cut and run."

Funny how you provided the BushCo viewpoint there.

It's not "stay the course," it is "keep lying and keep dying." It's not cut and run, it's doing what we need to do -- get out of Iraq, because as long as the US Military is there, things will never improve, for either Iraqis or us.

Of course, it is a moot question. Bush has made it very clear that we'll be there until 2009. He'll keep lying, and they'll keep dying.
posted by eriko at 10:52 AM on June 21, 2006


"Cut and run" I don't quite get it. Where does the "cut" come from? What are we cutting?
posted by delmoi at 10:57 AM on June 21, 2006


our losses
posted by ijoshua at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2006


Oddly, I'm reminded of a line from a Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine have "sex to save the friendship." Maybe we could impeach the President to save Iraq.

If the American people were to demand of their Congress the removal of this administration, might that buy us some of our credibility back? The American people don't hate the Iraqis, and don't want to kill the Iraqis, but it seems the administration does. Might the insurgency stand down and some of our allies offer assistance to the American people in solving the Iraq crisis if the American people remove the instigators of the war?
posted by MarvinTheCat at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2006


feel free to add or critique..
posted by Elim at 10:41 AM PST on June 21


Option 6 - Flashy ceremony with troops leaving the city and handing control to local Iraqi police commanders or generals, followed by a short drive off-camera to the little reported gigantic permanent bases on the oilfields in the desert.

Seriously. I don't think there will be a single day in the next 30 years when there isn't an American soldier on active duty in Iraq.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:07 AM on June 21, 2006


"stay the course" vs. "cut and run."

Funny how you provided the BushCo viewpoint there.


no, he provided a nice dose of reality. as of today, this is the perfect description of how the next election has been framed -- successfully, again -- by the GOP with the masochistic Democrats help.

and that's why the Democrats appear to be very far from taking back Congress in November. midterm elections, especially in a President's second term, should be a referendum on the President's success. now the framing is, "the Democrats want to run".

thinkers like Cordesman can PowerPoint Iraq until heel freezes over. the decisions there are taken by US politicians. you don't shift the balance in Washington, nothing will change. Iraq's sweet sweet billions of profit for the military industrial complex are just too juicy a prize for the GOP to ever consider changing their policy.

just for the fuck of it, I'd like to see a major Democrat try to attack Bush from the right -- mind you, I'm not talking about lame-o Lieberman/Hillary posturing. I'm talking about some kickass "let's send 500,000 more soldiers there" speech. then see what happens. as I said, just for the sake of the argument.

unless Democrats can win in a near-landslide, they don't have a chance. close elections will always be decided by Diebold, or the Supreme Court anyway
posted by matteo at 11:09 AM on June 21, 2006


There are of course any number of possib le position that might be taken and I would but say that what is taking place ought to be judged, evaluatged on its own grounds rather than comparing Iraq to a "real" war--by real war I mean an en enemy representing a nation state that is trying to defeat a nation state. In such a war or conflict, one or the other side capitualtes. In Iraq, we have an insurgench that seems to represent different contending internal groups--Shia and Sunnis; and then we have a batch of people who don't want "foreigners " there; and then we have outside fighters who come from countries other than Iraq, with their own agenda(s)...this of course complicates things but needs to be considered. We might consider the US and its allies as outsiders as well as arab fighters pouring into Iraq to fight Americans.

But begin with one simnple question: are we builing or plan on having permanen t bases in Iraq, no matter what? Why can't we get an answer to that question?
posted by Postroad at 11:10 AM on June 21, 2006


Option 7 Put Iraq back in the condition it was before WWI and British Empiracle interferance it was created. I.E. Three separate entities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra
posted by Gungho at 11:14 AM on June 21, 2006


Being one who is currently sweating over here in the big sand box (120 degrees today), I'll throw opinions into the mix. "Pulling out" now would be idiotic. The military is currently downsizing here. The Iraqi president has said publicly he wants to see US forces out as soon as it's mission capable (I think he mentioned something about 18 months). The US hasn’t set a date, but said they are working on out getting out of here. So why always the demand for a concrete withdrawal plan? If there is one thing I’ve learned in the Army, don’t count on ANYTHING. Just because someone tells you you’re leaving at 0900 the next morning doesn’t mean they won’t come bang on your door at 0300 to leave. Things change. Just because there were 2 IEDs today doesn’t mean there won’t be 12 tomorrow. Mission changes, but its getting better here.


Day by day the Iraqis are taking a larger role here. They do more checkpoints, they do more military operations. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we started pulling out of some of the “safer” areas of Iraq tomorrow because they are doing their job so well. As they learn more, we take another step back closer to the door. The country is rebuilding itself. I’ve seen a large improvement just in the last 2 months. Destroyed buildings are being rebuilt, infrastructure projects are starting and being finished, and more goods and money are flowing in daily. America wasn’t built in a day, don’t expect Iraq to be.


Are we ever going to be completely out of this country? Nope. How long have we been in Germany? Japan? As our political agenda changes, so does our military posture (what geographic location are all our threats coming from today?). A complete pullout will never happen, but I can see the large bulk of us home within two years. But then again what do I know. I’m a junior enlisted, sand sucking, boots on the ground guy. But at least I have the opportunity to see what I’m talking about with my own two eyes, and not read it in the press.
posted by Logboy at 11:15 AM on June 21, 2006


The key to success in Iraq is protecting and empowering the Iraqi moderates. It doesn't matter where that protection or empowerment comes from, but without Iraq will continue to be a destabilizing influence.
Elim's suggestion of multi-national forces is a good one, but in my mind only useful if that force can create a safe environment for Iraqi moderates.
By "moderate" I mean Iraqi groups that strive for stability, reject violence as the means to settle disputes, rule of law, and secularism, probably in that order.
posted by forforf at 11:26 AM on June 21, 2006


We've already done the cutting. "Mission Accomplished". It's the running we have to figure out.
"Cut and Run" is a tactic that is seen as "weak" and "cowardly" by Western culture as far back as the Roman empire. It means to attack ones opponent with a quick and "below the belt" attack or sucker punch, then to run away as your opponent stands to face you. It is an attempt by the spin machines to associate withdrawl of military forces from the region as a cowardly tactic reserved for those of low moral class.
Of course, as someone who understands real military tactics, cutting and running is one of the most effective strategies for prolonged engagements, provided you know where your opponent is. Our failure in Iraq is that we are the targets, and not the aggressor. IED's, sniper nests, mortar attacks. Those are all simply an application of a "cut and run" strategy to fight against a logistically superior force. Heck, most of the Revolutionary War was fought using such tactics.
Of course, those who are trained in open engagement tactics see it as a tactic of a coward and want to butt heads with someone else who will fight in "standard warfare". Really, they just need to go play Battletech or Warhammer 40k and get it out of their systems. But instead they are sitting in the Pentagon spending tax money on real bullets and wondering why they can't control the situation on the ground.

"Cutting and Running" is not the best option for the U.S. right now. What is needed is to "turtle" and draw out the enemy. Setting up a central fortification and forcing the enemy to come to you is the only option. And then you can leverage your superior firepower. But, of course, since the Green Zone is in the middle of an urban environment, you'd have to level about a 10 block perimeter around the area and create a no-man's land that they'd have to cross to attack you. But, then, you know, we end up sitting there doing nothing while the rest of the country disolves into tribal/religions civil war and they destroy access to all the sweet, precious oil we went there to secure for our oil companies in the first place.

Hello, yes, I've played a lot of table top war games. I usually engage with a 3/1 handicap.
posted by daq at 11:27 AM on June 21, 2006


But begin with one simnple question: are we builing or plan on having permanen t bases in Iraq, no matter what? Why can't we get an answer to that question?
posted by Postroad at 11:10 AM PST on June 21


I don't have any evidence that they are (some do), but it would be catastrophically stupid not to build them.

Look, this is a war about oil, and more specifically a war to maintain a predictable supply of a scarce resource. You can say what you want about blood for oil blah blah, but I can't think of a single war that wasn't fought over resources (and money is a resource).

Oil is extremely important to the U.S. and that's an understatement. To go though all this agony and not secure that resource on a permanent basis, even if it means securing its supply to the open market rather than shipping reserves directly to the U.S., doesn't make any sense from any perpective.

Add to this the fact that every country the U.S. invaded currently has a U.S. base on it.

The reason they aren't telling you this is simple - if you the current administration NEVER intends to leave iraq, that sends voters who are tolerant of slightly protracted stay over into the get-out-now camp. Also I suspect that international support will evaporate overnight if the U.S. proclaimed its intentions.

As an aside, I think Rumsfeld's denial of permanent bases is probably a matter of semantics. I do not believe the bases in South Korea or Japan are referred to as permanent because in theory we are there at the pleasure of the host country.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2006


How long have we been in Germany? Japan?

the Germans and the Japanese people's reaction to the US occupation had been very different though
posted by matteo at 11:31 AM on June 21, 2006


How do we get out of Iraq?

Just off the top of my head, I would say, boats.
posted by Relay at 11:34 AM on June 21, 2006


Shouldn't every plan at this point be "cutting and ___ing"?

All this talk of "cutting and running" is just another way to accuse someone of believing in sunk costs.
posted by Nahum Tate at 11:38 AM on June 21, 2006


No need to apologize for another excellent post russilwvong.

Lots to look at here. IMO, the US is going to ignobly withdrawl, it's just a question of packaging. I'm actually quite surprised Bush isn't making more announcements about how the Iraqi army is "standing up" in time for the November elections. Perhaps a realization that multiple car bombings, beheadings, and death squad mutiliatings don't equal "Mission Accomplished"?

The meme battle has been lost for the Dems since the 80's. When Reagan pulled the marines out of Beirut, he was defending American's integrity and not getting us bogged down in a quagmire. When Clinton sent troops to Yugoslavia and Somalia, he was a wasteful librul chickenhawk endangering our fighting boys and girls. When Bush II embarks on one of the most ill-fated military occupations ever, he's promoting Democracy.

That's the enigma wrapped in a mystery I'd like to figure out. If only because the DNC would pay me lots of money for the secret.
posted by bardic at 11:45 AM on June 21, 2006


Option 7 Put Iraq back in the condition it was before WWI ....Three separate entities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra
posted by Gungho at 12:14 PM MST on June 21 [+fave] [!]


Good One, I missed that,
Divide the country along ethnic Lines, as Loath as I am to agree to it, it has the charm of less bloodshed for all concerned.
posted by Elim at 11:46 AM on June 21, 2006


Option 7 Put Iraq back in the condition it was before WWI ....Three separate entities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra
posted by Gungho at 12:14 PM MST on June 21 [+fave] [!]

Good One, I missed that,
Divide the country along ethnic Lines, as Loath as I am to agree to it, it has the charm of less bloodshed for all concerned.
posted by Elim at 11:46 AM PST on June 21


How do those ethnic lines conincide with oil fields? Before WWI, no one including the Iraqis themselves cared about the oil. I would think if ethnic lines gave one of the three more oil than the other two, then there might be a lot more bloodshed than we might think.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:52 AM on June 21, 2006


We can deal directly with the Local population, The Kurds in the north we still have a 'fair' relationship.

We also get agreement to sell the oil on the dollar market, not the euro, which is really what this whole thing is about. (IMHO).
posted by Elim at 11:58 AM on June 21, 2006


The American people don't hate the Iraqis, and don't want to kill the Iraqis, but it seems the administration does.

I'd hazard to guess the same goes for the people of Iran and 99.9% of the rest of the world. We all just want to live in peace yet we continue to allow multi-national robber barrons (using their polticial puppets) to pit us all against in wars that none of us care to fight. We need a worldwide populist uprising. The people of the world need to unite together and oust any world leader or corporation that dares to toy with our liberty.
posted by any major dude at 12:12 PM on June 21, 2006


A good exit strategy needs to be grounded first in an understanding of what Iraq is. The very name gives it away:
Even their names reflect this artificiality: Iraq was a medieval province, with borders very different from those of the modern republic, excluding Mesopotamia in the north and including a slice of western Iran (Lewis, 2003, xxi)
The modern plight of Iraq goes back to the days of British colonialism, and the "exploitation model" of empire they developed in the conquest of India. It wasn't an entirely new strategy—Julius Caesar had done much the same with the Gauls—but the British learned they could conquer and control far larger populations by exacerbating and manipulating the internal tensions in the country.
The British first gained control of what is now Iraq after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. The value of controlling Iraq’s oil wealth was not lost on the British, even during the war, as the secretary of the War Cabinet, advised Foreign Secretary Arthur Belfour in writing that control of Persian and Mesopotamian oil was a “first-class British war aim.” The territories gained from the Ottomans were quickly divided up by British cartographers into units more compatible with the exploitation model: Kuwait was parceled off from Mesopotamia (later to be renamed Iraq) in an action quite reminiscent of Gerrymandering, ensuring that the Shi’ite majority in Iraq could be effectively managed by the British-supported Sunni minority, and that the British could in-turn exploit internal Shi’ite divisions in Kuwait. (Vail, 2004)
When the world wars forced European powers to recognize the sovereignty of their former colonies, this strategy proved most effective in maintaining de facto control where de juris rule had to be relinquished. At the time, Lawrence of Arabia proposed a map that respected the natural cultural boundaries of the Middle East: it provided a country for the Palestinians and seperated the Kurdish and Arabian areas of Iraq under seperate governments, among other things. It was taken fairly seriously, but ultimately rejected, largely because it fulfilled the objective of creating a peaceful Middle East too well. A peaceful Middle East is a stable Middle East, and a stable Middle East might not need (or appreciate) European intervention. More than a matter of political boundaries, empire is about patterns of dependence, and maintaining those patterns was crucial for the continued prosperity of Britain and other European powers.
With rise in expectations for independence and self-determination beginning in the 20th century, Britain had to adapt their model to the changing geo-political arena. They had to permit the appearance of independence to their colonies, while maintaining the flow of wealth and resources on which they depended. The Exploitation Model adapted quite well to this end: if a minority group depends on your support to control an “independent” country, then you can exert the exact same level of influence on this “sovereign” nation as you can over a colony – perhaps more, because you are no longer as culpable in matters of starvation, poverty and human rights. In addition to adapting the exploitation model to the changing world stage, the British carefully used their monopoly over cartography to ensure that these newly independent entities were cut up into chunks that would perpetuate ethnic strife and provide a ready pool of minority groups bidding for British support to their power with offers of enhancing British influence over the nations affairs. (Vail, 2004)
In other words, Iraq was set up to fail. The Sunnis in Iraq were hated by the Shi'ites for the excesses they had indulged in under British rule, and no group that has enjoyed power ever willingly gives it up.

The rise of the Ba'ath Party was the only way the Sunnis could maintain the control the British Empire had given them over a population that outnumbered them. Saddam Hussein's rule delayed Iraq's fate for over 30 years, but the British had deliberately drawn the borders of Iraq, like so many of its former colonies, specifically to ensure that it would collapse into civil war. Why are we surprised, then, that Iraq now seems to be doing exactly what it was designed to do?

This was not lost on the first Bush:
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. (Bush, 1998)
The animosity between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq is not a problem that can be resolved peacefully. The Iraqi army and police that the U.S. is so diligently supporting is just one side in a civil war: the Shi'ites taking their revenge on their former Sunni oppressors. The "insurgency," a.k.a., "the terrorists," are the other side—Sunnis fighting back against the Shi'ites, partly to restore their own power, but largely trying to defend themselves against the raids the army conducts on Sunni targets with little media coverage, to which our military generally turns a blind eye. Even the best case scenario proposed by the Bush administration is an unmitigated disaster: the triumph of one side of this civil war over the other, an end which can only concievably end with genocide. The primary loyalties in Iraq are not to the fictions drawn on maps by European oppressors as they left the land; they are the tribal and sectarian loyalties that provide actual security and physical needs. State failure is a simple question of Maslowe's hierarchy of needs.

Let us assume the unthinkable for a moment, and consider the possibility that the United States government is not utterly incompetent, and that such obvious facts were known to them prior to the invasion. Why, then, would they commit to such a scheme?
From this point, up until 1990, the US and Britain effectively used the Exploitation Model to control Iraq through support to the Sunni minority. This raises the question: what is the US doing to control Iraq at present? The January 3oth elections scheduled to create a new Iraqi government seem, on the surface, to violate every tenet of the Exploitation Model: the 60% Shi’ite majority will clearly win control of the government, they have very close ties to Iran, and will essentially exclude the US from significant control in the affairs—especially the economic affairs—of Iraq. In fact, the new Iranian/Iraqi Shi’ite position will assist Iran’s power play in the region, also at the expense of US influence. So does the US have a plan? Or are they stuck between a rock (Shi’ite Control, Shi’ite/Sunni civil war) and a hard place (Fixing the election and inciting Shi’ite/Iranian violence), and are simply pressing ahead with the better of two very bad positions? Is it time for the Exploitation Model to take another evolutionary leap… is there some entirely new US strategy afoot?

What I am proposing is the possibility that the US is intentionally pressing ahead with an entirely new model, what I am calling the Intentional Instability Model. The impetus for this development is the understanding that the situation in Iraq will deteriorate significantly no matter what happens on January 31st (it will likely be accelerated by the election), and that it is critical to US economic health to stabilize the interrelated crises in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia simultaneously. (Vail, 2004)
In this case, the "exit strategy" is clear. Permanent bases rooted near strategic reserves, like oil fields, can be erected. The region can be allowed to dissolve into civil war, allowing the U.S. the opportunity to remove itself from general view and withdraw to said bases, where they can use the ongoing conflict to justify continued prescence in the region (as per the plan outlined by so many of the Bush administration's principal players even before Bush was elected, e.g., Rebuilding America's Defenses, PNAC, Sept. 2000).

While certainly Machiavellian, we should understand that such a power play might be as necessary as it is ruthless, at least from the perspective of maintaining the American way of life. No one could seriously think that terrorism posed an actual threat to the American way of life—9/11 killed 3,000 people, but the centerpiece of the American way of life, the automobile, claimed over ten times that many fatalities in 1999. However, reduced energy most certainly does threaten the American way of life. Oil isn't just a commodity; it's our food. It's the very foundation of our current civilization.

The best summary I know comes from a fictional character, "Bryan Woodman," Matt Damon's character from Syriana: "What are they thinking? They're thinking that it's running out. It's running out... and ninety percent of what's left is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death."

Bush, G. 1998. A World Transformed. Knopf, New York.

Lewis, B. 2003. The Crisis of Islam. The Modern Library, New York.

posted by jefgodesky at 12:15 PM on June 21, 2006 [32 favorites]


Great compilation there jefgodesky!

Also, good post and links russilwvong.

The time to leave is NOW.

The neocons and Dear Leader clearly said "When the Iraqi's stand up, we'll stand down."
Well, that has now happened.
Two US soldiers were tortured and executed by Iraqi troops.
Time to stand down and the hell with what Exxon wants!
posted by nofundy at 12:50 PM on June 21, 2006


Agreed. Jefdogesky wins the internet for today.

(And I have to say, while not as laugh-out-loud funny as it used to be, The Onion is pretty damn sharp when it comes to politics.)
posted by bardic at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2006


My kudos to Jefgodesky as well.

It's the energy, and the ego. It boils down pretty much to that. We need the energy, and we sure have the ego.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:44 PM on June 21, 2006


> whatever the outcome, no exist strategy is going to repair the complete utter disillusion
> in american lost moral high ground. Maybe this is good.

Good maybe or maybe not, but certainly not new. At no time since Hitler ceased to be frightening has anyone outside of the US (barring possibly Margaret Thatcher) been willing to say publically that America possessed the moral high ground. Ask De Gaulle, ask Kim Jong-Il, ask pretty much any non-American in the years between these two. The default knee-jerk attitude is and has been À bas les Américains. No possibility, then, of losing what was never there. elpapacito's pretended "disillusionment" is just melodrama and pose.
posted by jfuller at 1:49 PM on June 21, 2006


Yeah, Jefgodesky, I always suspected there was a crazy-like-a-fox thing going on with this war, Cheney may be stone evil but he isn't stupid.

As to Biddle's analysis, the one thing that jumps out at me is this:

Second, the United States must bring more pressure to bear on the parties in the constitutional negotiations. And the strongest pressure available is military: the United States must threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate.

What the hell does that mean - if the Sunnis don't play along we'll threaten to throw them to the wolves?

Way to claim the high ground. Maybe there is an argument that this war, this approach, was a strategic necessity - but it's a moral catastrophe.
posted by kgasmart at 2:01 PM on June 21, 2006


Damned interesting post & thread.

/Thanks Jefgodesky et.al
posted by Smedleyman at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2006


'Cut and Run' is a tactic that is seen as 'weak' and 'cowardly' by Western culture as far back as the Roman empire.

According to the OED via Wikipedia, the phrase means "to cut the cable and make sail instantly, without waiting to weigh anchor."

What is needed is to 'turtle' and draw out the enemy. Setting up a central fortification and forcing the enemy to come to you is the only option.

That's not always successful.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:52 PM on June 21, 2006


That's not always successful.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:52 PM MST on June 21


Especially when your enemy out numbers you, knows the terrain and can cut off you supplies and your allies.

A stoopid way to fight historically..

You either meet them face to face in a stand up fight (can do it in an insurgency)
or win over the populace and starve the enemy (they are doing that to us)

We cannot win this with the military in any just way, we could nuke and pave and I'm sure some in the administration are playing with that idea.
posted by Elim at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2006


I like how no Iraqis are apparently discussing what to do with Iraq.

And herein lies the whole problem. I'm sure Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie Gelb, Anthony Cordesman, and Daniel Benjamin are all smart people-- but none of them are Iraqi. In fact, most of them work for various think tanks which get various funding from various groups-- so their opinion boils down to what does such-and-such business think would be the best thing.
posted by cell divide at 3:17 PM on June 21, 2006


As GWB said, "Bring it on".
posted by movilla at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2006


I'm sure lots of Iraqis are discussing it. We're just not hearing any of what they have to say, because nobody in the news media gives a crap.

[bitter, dripping sarcasm]Besides, they don't speak English anyway, so who cares.[/sarcasm]

Sun Tzu is both laughing and crying at our methods.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:57 PM on June 21, 2006


jefgodesky: Agreeing with everyone here with the most excellent post. But here's the question which I have yet to hear a clear answer to... Wouldn't it have made more sense both politically and economically to give "big oil" a 500 billion to 1 trillion dollar subsidy to develop alternatives to oil, e.g. biofuels, rather than spending the same amount on the Iraq war? Or is it rather that foreign policy is being run like a zero-sum game? I.e. sure we could invest in alternative energy, but that would mean China and India would get access to Iraqi and other mid-east oil, thereby strengthening their economy relative to ours.
posted by Nquire at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2006


what geographic location are all our threats coming from today?).

Oh, you know. Mainly that one your country has been cynically fucking over for years. Hell of a coincidence there, eh sport? Boy, it's good to hear an actual insider's voice though. Makes me feel all warm and cosy. And real confident that America's illegal invasion and mass slaughter in Iraq is going to do sooo much to alleviate the situation in the long term.
posted by Decani at 4:56 PM on June 21, 2006


"Wouldn't it have made more sense both politically and economically to give "big oil" a 500 billion to 1 trillion dollar subsidy to develop alternatives to oil, e.g. biofuels, rather than spending the same amount on the Iraq war?"

Of course it would from the energy standpoint, but you're leaving out the effect of hugely swollen egos of narcissistic dominator personalities. They have to grind someone's face with a boot, or they can't feel manly.

Never, ever leave out the psychology.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:35 PM on June 21, 2006


Wouldn't it have made more sense both politically and economically to give "big oil" a 500 billion to 1 trillion dollar subsidy to develop alternatives to oil

The dirty little secret that I think everyone in the energy sector knows, but few want to admit publicly, is that even an optimal combination of alternative fuels will mean less than half the energy we currently get from fossil fuels. Add on to that that so much of the utility of fossil fuels comes from their interchangeability, and all of those vital "fringe benefits" like the petrochemicals, fertilizers and so forth that are like micronutrients for our society—vital, but not necessarily required in large quantities—and you start to run into the fact that we don't have any viable alternatives on the table.

It's important to not let that get out too far, because managing perception is as important here as managing resources—even if you have the resources, if the perception is that you don't, the futures will say you don't. But our leaders tend to be the "true believers." They may know that we don't have an alternative right now, but they also have faith that the capitalist enterprise can invent something. That is faith-based politics. Everything the U.S. government does now is geared towards that one end: making the supply last just a little bit longer, to buy more time for a real alternative to be developed. That's ultimately, I think, what the invasion of Iraq is all about: buying time.

Of course, that relies on the premise that an alternative must exist, because we need one. I'm not sure that necessarily follows: for any planet, there has to be some fuel source that's most effective. Once that's tapped, every other resource available must, by definition, be less effective—requiring a downscale. Are fossil fuels that resource for earth? My intuition is yes, but you can't prove a negative like that; all we know is, if there is a more economically viable fuel, we don't have it right now.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:17 PM on June 21, 2006


I, for one, don't buy into most of the realpolitik expressed by jefgodesky in this thread. Nothing personal, and realpolitik is a consistent column inch winner in these intrawebs, but the fact is, the current American administration are a bunch of rubes, with little personal experience of the world, particularly the Middle East, and no personal relationships or credibility with the real leaders there. Except for last week's stealth PR stunt, Bush hasn't ever worked or traveled there, Cupcake Condi isn't taken seriously even in Israel, what Dick Cheney knows about the house of Saud he read in briefing papers, and Donnybrook Rumsfeld couldn't be bothered to listen to anyone but himself long enough to hear truth if it was being spoken to him. Etc., etc.,

Seriously, the current Administration is entirely manned by intellectual lightweights, who can't even get meetings with tribal warlords, because they can't be taken seriously by anyone with any sense. That's as real as American realpolitik gets at the moment. Under the current American regime of idiots, the U.S. State Department has experienced significant and ongoing resignations of experienced diplomats, and have put State under the leadership of people who think of diplomacy as a short term project work. Results?

We're blind in Syria, have zero contact with a Palestinian regime we didn't even see making it into office by democratic election, and are even straining relations with relatively stable keystone states of the region such as Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan. In short, the current U.S. Administration's inept leadership and criminally clumsy diplomacy is doing irreparable damage to our prestige and our diplomatic capability across the entire Middle East region that will far outlast their terms of office, and Iraq is only one component of this clusterfuck.

To speak of an "exit strategy" for Iraq only in terms of the forces and groups inside that now obviously failed state is to miss entirely the larger, more horrific results for the region of which we've become the architects, and to suppose, with the same shortsighted hubris that got us into this quagmire, that we have real control of any withdrawal or continuing occupation. Building big embassies and permanent bases in Iraq may mean little if we can't get people to man them. We've long since ceased to be an agent of positive change in the region, and as time has gone on since spring 2003, we've become increasingly the defensive, reactionary armed bullies we're increasingly seen as in that region, and in Europe, Russia, and many daughter states of the former Soviet Union, which are regional neighbors with ongoing security interests, for which we are showing very little consideration or willingness to consult.

In my judgement, as an American business person who traveled extensively in the region in the 1980's and 1990's, it will take perhaps 20 to 30 years to rebuild the diplomatic contacts we've lost in that region over the last 4 years, and until we do that, we have no hope of improving our human intelligence capability in that region, or of influencing regional policy or political development. Nothing happens in the Middle East without the development of personal relationships and interweaving of long term interests, and we've lost what little of that we ever really had, in the clumsy foolishness we've shown under our current leadership. As a country, we deserve to reap what these dopes have sowed, for our stupidity in electing them in the first place, and then, again, repeating that folly. And we will be reaping thin, and bitter harvests from sandy soil there, for decades to come, mark my words.
posted by paulsc at 8:54 PM on June 21, 2006



Excellent posts, jefgodesky!

Wouldn't it have made more sense both politically and economically to give "big oil" a 500 billion to 1 trillion dollar subsidy to develop alternatives to oil

It is worth noting that although the majority of oil and its refined products are burned for fuel or electricity, a substantial portion of oil is used industrially to make chemicals, plastics, etc. Certainly reducing oil's use as an energy source would free more up for those industrial uses, but it merely delays the inevitable.

I agree with jefgodesky that iraq, and the rest of the administratinos moves in the mideast are about delaying the disaster a little longer. Over the next three decades, oil at a stable price of around, say, $80/bbl is perferable to oil that swings wildly between $50 and $100. Predictability allows long-term investments to be made.

Think of it in the most pie and the sky context imaginable. Let's say large scale fusion power plants from seawater are realistically 50 years away, okay? We somehow have to survive the next 50 years without running out of oil ourselves or having the rest of the world fighting resource wars over peaked oil fields. Worse still, imagine India, China and the U.S./Europe fighting these resource wars by proxy.

That said, it would be nice to know why no one in either party is backing large scale nuclear power plant construction or other nuclear-generated electrical research. IT seems like if the administration was really focused on the totaly energy picture, and not just the oil part of it, they would have proposed something meaningful in the last 6 years.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:02 PM on June 21, 2006


paulsc-

I understand the sentiment, but I completely disagree with the conclusions. To a large extent is was those entrenched interested at the state dept and elsewhere in govt over the last 20 years that failed to make any progress with Iran or Syria, coddled then vilified Saddam, and failed to address the cauldron of Afghanistan prior to 2001.

The only reason anyone cares about the Middle East is oil. That's it. The middle east without oil becomes as much of a priority as Rawanda. Is that awful? You bet. Ask the Sudanese.

We don't have to leave Iraq, we just have to get out of Baghdad. If we control the oil regardless of whether it's ever pumped out of the ground at anything more than a trickle, then the mission really is accomplished.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:18 PM on June 21, 2006


In short, the current U.S. Administration's inept leadership and criminally clumsy diplomacy is doing irreparable damage to our prestige and our diplomatic capability across the entire Middle East region that will far outlast their terms of office, and Iraq is only one component of this clusterfuck.

If JG is correct, this won't matter. His excellent analysis has framed this seeming fiasco in a new light for me in a way that few of the other theories and miscellaneous punditry have come even close to doing (other than the switching of oil market currency to the euro). It makes perfect sense and the fact that those in the Bush administration have been utterly inept in other areas of government does not, in any way, rule out such cunning. They can, after all, be easily manipulated by other forces, as much as anything in the political landscape and have giant think-tanks to do their serious thinking for them in between great photo ops and long vacations.

BioFuels: Beaten to death. A good supplement when using resources which would otherwise go to waste, but as a primary fuel source (or even as a large portion) it is ridiculous. We currently use great amounts of oil to produce the same biomass that would then be converted to alternative fuels. These conversions always result in a loss of efficiency. OIL - BIOMASS - ENERGY is much less efficient than OIL - ENERGY. This might be alleviated with genetically engineered crops in the future, but as it stands would be a net loss if adapted in any meaningful way (See the oil we eat link in JG's post).
posted by IronLizard at 9:19 PM on June 21, 2006


Surrealpolitik
posted by homunculus at 9:20 PM on June 21, 2006


"It makes perfect sense and the fact that those in the Bush administration have been utterly inept in other areas of government does not, in any way, rule out such cunning. They can, after all, be easily manipulated by other forces, as much as anything in the political landscape and have giant think-tanks to do their serious thinking for them in between great photo ops and long vacations."
posted by IronLizard at 12:19 AM EST on June 22 [+fave] [!]


The problem with dolts hiring geniuses to do the heavy thinking, is that dolts don't understand the work product for which they've paid. Dolts get that they are dolts pretty early in life, and even they see little point in keeping eggheads they don't understand around thereafter. Dolts, you see, are stupid, not crazy.

Bush & Co. are dolts of the first water. The head dolt can't even be bothered to read newspapers regularly. The dolt in charge of the State Department thought John Bolton was the best man we could have at the United Nations, and that ringing endorsement has worked out so well.

This is the administration that got kicked in the balls politically, and strategically by a hurricane that was forecast days in advance, and shown on TV radar all the way in. Even Dan Rather saw that was trouble coming.

They're dolts, damn it. They don't lead, they get led astray. I'm confident that they'd have already nuked Godless Iraq if they could ever have figured out just how to fire those finicky nooklar missiles...
posted by paulsc at 1:02 AM on June 22, 2006


If the facts fit two possible models, one in which your antagonists are fools, and one in which they are cleverly masquerading as fools, it seems to me that until there arises some fact that can only be explained by one model or the other, it would be wiser not to underestimate them. I think of it almost as a corollary to Ockham's razor.

Perhaps more importantly, I can see a definite plan to their foolishness. If they know that the situation is going to get worse, how can they convince us that everything is hunky-dory? When Katrina wiped out New Orleans (as anyone following global warming knew would eventually happen), we didn't think that the diminishing returns of sociopolitical complexity made it impossible for the government to be effective; no, we thought it was because Bush is incompetent. Our faith in the basic ideal remained unshaken. When gas prices go up, Bush's incompetence muddies the waters: is it the passing consequence of the current administration's foolishness, or the beginning of a systemic loss, like the global Hubbert Peak? By muddying the waters, Bush's incompetence allows us to mistake the systemic for the ephemeral, which maintains our faith—and keeps us investing, not only monetarily, but psychologically investing our time and energy in perpetuating the current model, rather than looking for other ways which would have to involve more sustainable practices. Those would probably involve things like bioregionalism, which would involve secession. Shifting our culture to a sustainable basis cannot be an easy process, or one without great sacrifices. One can even understand why someone might want to oppose those losses, were it not for the fact that they are ultimately unavoidable.

I often find myself feeling sorry for Bush himself. Son of a domineering mother who has to play politics just for her love, clinging to a fundamentalist Christian faith to maintain the fragile self-image his family has left him, he didn't think the case for war with Iraq was very solid, and he apparently doesn't care much about gay marriage, either. But the Bush administration is not about the faces you see on the TV. It's driven by advisors and handlers, and, it seems to me, that the man with the most power in Washington is not George Bush, nor even Dick Cheney, but Richard Perle.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:23 AM on June 22, 2006


"This is the administration that got kicked in the balls politically, and strategically by a hurricane that was forecast days in advance, and shown on TV radar all the way in. Even Dan Rather saw that was trouble coming.

They're dolts, damn it. They don't lead, they get led astray."


And yet somehow, they're still in office, they are still doing pretty much whatever they want, and they are still in command of the most dangerous set of military weapons on earth.

Imagine that.

Why the hell haven't we run them out of town on a rail yet? I think the real dolts are the (mostly non-) voting population of the USA. We're just sitting here taking it, some because they have no bloody clue and others because they realize they're pretty much powerless within the system.

Reminds me of the latrine scene in Full Metal Jacket:
Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (shouting, as usual): "Why is Private Pyle out of his bunk after lights out?! Why is Private Pyle holding that weapon? Why aren't you stomping Private Pyle's guts out?"
I think there's quite a bit of both the utter dolt and the sneaky bastard genius going on in the administration collectively, so both of your takes are correct from different angles, paulsc and jefgodesky. I lean more towards jef's call on this part though:

"But the Bush administration is not about the faces you see on the TV. It's driven by advisors and handlers, and, it seems to me, that the man with the most power in Washington is not George Bush, nor even Dick Cheney, but Richard Perle."
posted by zoogleplex at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2006


paulsc, excellent points. I too am getting sick of the realpolitik anlysis which, to me, seems like a forced rationale to feel good about the iraq conflict and the mass deaths it has produced. Reading phrases such as "necessary action" to explain away (and perhaps approve of this conflict) what might very well be regarded in history as a criminal war is almost sickening.

The new face of the defender of the war isnt the "kill all ragheads" hothead hillbilly, but the American intellectual who can pull up PNAC quotes and Harper's articles and slowly tell us that this is necessary for some energy shortage apolcalypse fantasy. Yeah, Syriana is a fine film but reality it is not.

The best counter-argument I can think up (as has just been posted by jefgodskey of course) is that the figureheads don't represent the -real- policy makers, which is fairly unconvincing (not to mention conspiratorial) in itself as these figureheads pick and choose policy at their whims (be it personal or political). They're not the face of some wise think-tanks. These guys muscle think-tanks and intelligence organizations to give them what they want.
posted by skallas at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2006


ALso, I wouldnt at all be surprised if the "reality-based left," say the typical mefite, would in the near future be the biggest defender of the iraq conflict. Afterall, if you believe jg above then you -need- this confict for all the oil you -need-. FOr the economy you -need- to work in. For the machines you -need- to power. For the medicines that -keep you alive-. If energy shortage is as real as global warming and the best way to get energy while supposedly researching alternatives (snicker) is to start a little war in a crappy middle eastern country then you would be a fool not to do it, right?

I wouldnt be surprised if in a year from now this site was the LGF for the Iraq war, with more jg posts featured on the front page telling us that Bush is a kind man who, due to the conspiracy of energy, had to do bad things for the greater good.

This turns my stomach as much as the "you dont really understand -insert genocidal leader here-" crowd.
posted by skallas at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2006


I often find myself feeling sorry for Bush himself.

That's what they'd love you to think. The best legacy this guy can leave as of now thanks to all the work of the people who leaked out his dirty secrets is "good man caught in a bad world, fighting for the greater good." Well, if you truly believe that I've got a bridge or three for sale...
posted by skallas at 10:34 AM on June 22, 2006


skallas, you misunderstand me. I've been criticizing the invasion of Iraq since before it happened. I had family members question my mental health because I said Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction. But noboy in this conflict is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, and nobody is a villain in their own mind. As Sun Tzu put it, the challenge is to know your enemy, and know yourself. This isn't justification; it's understanding the war from their perspective. If you can't do that, then you'll never be able to predict their next move.

I could tell you the world from al-Qa'ida's perspective in their own terms, as well, but I have no more sympathies for them than I do for the United States government. To be able to see the world from their perspectives might be able to elicit one's sympathy, but it does not necessarily mean you agree, or even find their actions excusable.

From Ender's Game:
"And it came down to this: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them--"

"You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.

"No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."
If you can't deal with that kind of ambivalence and ambiguity, if you need charicatures and dehumanized enemies, then war is a subject that you simply cannot comment upon intelligently.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2006


skallas-

Are you saying that jg is wrong, that there is no coming oil crisis and that we don't really need the oil, or are you suggesting that our need for the oil is due to our materialistic, consumerist, self-indulgent society?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:45 AM on June 22, 2006


I should point out, I don't think we need to continue living in the culture we've lived in. This weekend, I'm taking a primitive skills course. I intend to vastly simplify my life. I think what we need to do is create a new, simpler, more sustainable culture. But I don't see the American way of life as anything sacrosanct or even worth preserving necessarily. I think that the longer we wait before moving in that direction, the more suffering and woe it will entail, but I also know that not everyone agrees with my assessment. Starting from their premises, then the Iraq war was "for the greater good." I think it was a horrible thing, and will contiue to create new horrors for a long time to come, but I can understand why the administration does what it does, and unlike most Americans, I've yet to be surprised by much of anything to come out of the White House since 9/11. Understanding the world from your enemy's perspective is not the same as sharing that perspective.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2006


The best legacy this guy can leave as of now thanks to all the work of the people who leaked out his dirty secrets is "good man caught in a bad world, fighting for the greater good." Well, if you truly believe that I've got a bridge or three for sale...

No, that's not what I think of Bush. I think of him as far more pathetic and scared than that; he has my pity, not my respect. His mother is one of arch-bitches of the modern world. George Bush comes from one of the country's most powerful—and most dysfunctional—families. Parental love was doled out commensurate with political attainment, and George Bush was never able to do anything right. The PBS documentary The Dark Side mentioned that he wasn't convinced about WMD's in Iraq; and we've seen FPP's here on MetaFilter mentioning his personal ambivalence on the issue of gay marriage. But even though he knew what he was doing was wrong, he did it for the political gain. He's forever motivated by one thing above all: to outdo his father. To prove to the cold, ruthless bitch that birthed him that he's worthy of her love. This is a pitiful, scarred little boy in a position to drag us all through the mud in order to heal his scars. Like most of the villains of history, his is a fairly tragic tale, and when you learn how such evil got its start, you can almost pity him.

Then you remember all the people who've suffered and died so that he can wrestle his personal demons, and you realize that nothing could ever be more selfish than that. But you should be able to hold both thoughts in your head at the same time: that this man can be both worthy of your pity, and one of the most criminally selfish beings to ever curse the human race.

I've tried to find more about Cheney's personal past, but that's proven a far more difficult tale to uncover. Yet, I'm fairly certain his tale is not so different.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2006


There's certainly no excuse for invading other countries and engendering mass slaughter in order to keep our oil-powered materialistic lifestyle going. That is flat out sociopathic behavior for a nation (a collective people) in our modern world with our global interdependencies. By doing this, by allowing this, we as a nation make ourselves criminals, period.

I don't think jef or anyone else here is now condoning or will ever condone such naked applications of power as being beneficial to anyone, even the "victors."

However, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there in America who are just fine with holding guns to other people's heads while taking all their stuff, if not just outright murdering them and then taking it. When they operate in individually, we call them criminals; in relatively small groups, organized crime, the Mafia.

What do you call 300 million people who operate like that?

I think "feeling sorry for Bush" is only meant in a personal, "you poor bastard" sense, just like you would for one of your buddies if he had abusive parents, not it the sense of feeling sorry for him as President of the US and part of the PNAC New World Order.

On preview, my thought seems correct. Good explanation, jef.

Again, never leave out the psychology. The type of person like Bush has a personality and a psychology that was formed by his upbringing, the same as all of us, but it's a specific type of dysfunctional upbringing.

I think that's one of the reasons why evil is so banal and predictable - the life situations that create and foster evil in a person are depressingly nearly identical, monotonous, and self-perpetuating.

And if you give people like this the power they crave... look out.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2006


jefgodesky: Let us assume the unthinkable for a moment, and consider the possibility that the United States government is not utterly incompetent, and that such obvious facts were known to them prior to the invasion.

Are you serious?

In late January 2003, less than eight weeks before the war began, Bush did not know that there was a difference between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

No offense, jefgodesky, but the idea that the current chaos in Iraq is actually a clever plan on the part of the Bush administration, orchestrated by Richard Perle, is batshitinsane.

paulsc: Bush & Co. are dolts of the first water.

Agreed.

jefgodesky: If the facts fit two possible models, one in which your antagonists are fools, and one in which they are cleverly masquerading as fools, it seems to me that until there arises some fact that can only be explained by one model or the other, it would be wiser not to underestimate them.

Alas, you've set up an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory. Any evidence that the subject is a fool can be explained as a clever ruse to make himself look like a fool.

Entire books have been written describing how the Bush administration decided to go to war, and its grossly inadequate post-war planning (Woodward, Packer, Suskind). See also. You think it's plausible that the Bush administration has somehow coopted or fooled all of these people?
posted by russilwvong at 12:17 PM on June 22, 2006


In late January 2003, less than eight weeks before the war began, Bush did not know that there was a difference between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

He doesn't have to—he's not the one making the decision.

Entire books have been written describing how the Bush administration decided to go to war, and its grossly inadequate post-war planning (Woodward, Packer, Suskind). See also. You think it's plausible that the Bush administration has somehow coopted or fooled all of these people?

No, actually, I've read many of those books, and they often discuss the formative role Richard Perle, et al played. They talk about the lack of planning for an exit strategy, thus glossing over the fact that in its own terms, there was never supposed to be an exit.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:24 PM on June 22, 2006


they often discuss the formative role Richard Perle, et al played.

Cites, please.
posted by russilwvong at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2006


Well, the best book I've read on the subject is Imperial Hubris, by Michael Scheuer (formerly anonymous), which I believe discusses the manner in which Perle and other neoconservatives pushed for an invasion of Iraq as early as the 1990s. Joshua Marshall's "Practice to Decieve," published in April 2003 by Washington Monthly goes into detail on the whole sordid history. And of course, it's well known that an invasion of Iraq was suggested by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and other neoconservatives in the White House within hours of 9/11, after nearly ten years of campaigning for an invasion of Iraq. Rebuilding America's Defenses (PDF), a now well-known policy paper published by PNAC in Sept. 2004 and authored by Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and others, states on page 17:
From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.
Is it still a conspiracy theory, when they publish it beforehand and tell everyone exactly what it is they intend to do? I used to wonder how it was that Germans were so surprised by the Holocaust, when Hitler specified that he would do exactly that before he reached power, in Mein Kampf. I now understand how that happened.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2006


I'm sorry, Rebuilding America's Defenses was published in Sept. 2000, not 2004. That makes quite a difference.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:51 PM on June 22, 2006


From "Practice to Deceive":

The hawks' grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves.

Blah, blah, blah. I've written about this utopian fantasy before. Again, how is this evidence for your theory that the chaos in Iraq is deliberate, a way of justifying military bases in Iraq?

From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene.

The report is referring to the existing US bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other neighboring states (as of 2000), not hypothetical bases in Iraq.
posted by russilwvong at 1:47 PM on June 22, 2006


Blah, blah, blah. I've written about this utopian fantasy before. Again, how is this evidence for your theory that the chaos in Iraq is deliberate, a way of justifying military bases in Iraq?

I didn't say it wasn't fantasy; I said it's their thinking. Earlier in the article, Marshall writes:
Like any group of permanent Washington revolutionaries fueled by visions of a righteous cause, the neocons long ago decided that criticism from the establishment isn't a reason for self-doubt but the surest sign that they're on the right track. But their confidence also comes from the curious fact that much of what could go awry with their plan will also serve to advance it. A full-scale confrontation between the United States and political Islam, they believe, is inevitable, so why not have it now, on our terms, rather than later, on theirs? Actually, there are plenty of good reasons not to purposely provoke a series of crises in the Middle East. But that's what the hawks are setting in motion, partly on the theory that the worse things get, the more their approach becomes the only plausible solution.
Now, granted, this is merely a supporting piece. My primary source here is "Adapting the Exploitation Model: Does the US have NO plan, or a NEW plan?" by Jeff Vail. Vail was an intelligence officer in the USAF who helped plan a good bit of the Iraqi invasion, and is currently a counter-terrorism expert with the Dept. of the Interior. He writes:
There are some pretty simple issues that underlie this problem. The US economy is dependent on the regular supply of petroleum from the Middle East. The US economy is dependent on the continued use of the petrodollar (dollar denomination of petroleum sales) standard. The US has the most powerful and projectable military force in the world, and will maintain this advantage for the next 10+ years. The Intentional Instability Model is based on the principle that fostering, not resolving instability in a region is the most effective way to ensure acceptance of the use of dominant military force to exert influence. Intentional Instability creates the kind of permanent-crisis mentality first suggested by George Orwell’s continuous state of “war” in his book “1984”. Intentional Instability facilitates the kind of Keynesian stimulus favored by the power elite: defense spending and economic subsidies that concentrate power in the hands of the few. Intentional Instability in the region will provide the context to support the House of Saud when that crisis matures into a full-blown insurgency. Intentional Instability provides a context to contain Iranian ambitions – especially those of establishing an Iranian/PetroEuro alternative to the Saudi/PetroDollar standard upon which the entire US economy hangs. The January 3oth elections will create a civil war in Iraq along Sunni vs. Shi’ite lines, and will ensure the US presence in the region for decades. In classic Exploitation Model manner, the US military will continue to leverage local fighters and governments against each other, attempting to reserve its military power behind protective barriers to launch lightning-quick strikes against carefully planned targets. In my estimation, the Intentional Instability Model will work, and it will work well. That is, until adversaries learn the tactics of net-war, understand how to amplify the effects of their attacks by targeting critical nodes, and realize the fundamental weaknesses of hierarchy. But that could take years, and in the mean time, the situation in the Middle East will take only one path: increasing instability. The most important question, in my mind: is this the result of a new, intentional US strategy, or is it simply incompetence on the part of American foreign policy.
The report is referring to the existing US bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other neighboring states (as of 2000), not hypothetical bases in Iraq.

No, that's simply not true. The part I quoted is under the heading of "Persian Gulf," and refers explicitly to bases in Iraq. Fuller context, still on page 17:
After eight years of no-fly-zone operations, there is little reason to anticipate that the U.S. air presence in the region should diminish significantly as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.
This was not one of PNAC's (many) papers advocating an invasion of Iraq, but this is very clearly making the case for permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq should that possibility arise. A few pages earlier, on page 14, they write this:
Though the immediate mission of those forces is to enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, they represent the long-term commitment of the United States and its major allies to a region of vital importance. Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Emphasis mine.

So, we have two possible alternatives. In one, there is no one in the White House or the Department of Defense who knows anything about Iraq, and they pushed to invade it without any persuasion from the neoconservatives who are so intimately involved in the upper echelons of both the White House and the Department of Defense; they invaded Iraq for oil, but had no plan, leading to the current debacle.

In the other, they had access to the most basic and cursory analysis of Iraq's structure and nature, and knew their invasion would lead to civil war. They anticipated this, and in fact pursued this end, in order to create the justification for an ongoing military prescence in the region to secure America's oil supply at the expense of the Iraqi people, and to a lesser extent the American servicemen sent into the field.

In the "Ineptitude Model," where does PNAC fit in? These are the people at the top of the Bush administration, and they were on record before Bush was even elected that they wanted to create instability in Iraq to justify a permanent military prescence. Now there's instability in Iraq, we have no exit strategy, but we're to believe that everything going exactly according to the plan that was publicly aired, written down, and published for all the world to see, is simply the result of their stupidity?
posted by jefgodesky at 2:14 PM on June 22, 2006


I said it's their thinking.

Correct. But Marshall's article does not support your theory that the neocon goal is "intentional instability." As stated in Marshall's article, the neocon goal is the utopian fantasy of bringing democracy to the Middle East by fire and sword. (As Cordesman put it at the time: "They've crossed the line between neo-conservative and neo-crazy.")

The most important question, in my mind: is this the result of a new, intentional US strategy, or is it simply incompetence on the part of American foreign policy.

So where does Vail provide evidence for the former?

The report is referring to the existing US bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other neighboring states (as of 2000), not hypothetical bases in Iraq.

Specifically:
Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene.
So, we have two possible alternatives. In one, there is no one in the White House or the Department of Defense who knows anything about Iraq, and they pushed to invade it without any persuasion from the neoconservatives who are so intimately involved in the upper echelons of both the White House and the Department of Defense; they invaded Iraq for oil, but had no plan, leading to the current debacle.

I'd describe it more like this: the neoconservatives, especially Wolfowitz, lobbied very hard to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They believed that the US could transform the Middle East into a US sphere of influence, installing friendly, more or less democratic governments; their inspiration was post-Cold War Eastern Europe. Bill Keller:
The third striking thing about Wolfowitz is an optimism about America's ability to build a better world. He has an almost missionary sense of America's role. In the current case, that means a vision of an Iraq not merely purged of cataclysmic weaponry, not merely a threat disarmed, but an Iraq that becomes a democratic cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East. Given the fatalism that prevails about this most flammable region of the world, that is an audacious optimism indeed.
After 9/11, they convinced Bush that transforming the Middle East, starting with Iraq, was a good counter-terrorism strategy.

And no, they had no postwar plan. Keller again:
Wolfowitz says he worries deeply about the risks of going into Iraq -- about disabling the small arsenal of Scud missiles before one possibly delivers poisons to Israel or the Saudi oil fields, about persuading Israel (as he personally helped do during the gulf war) not to join the war even if attacked, knowing that would tend to mobilize the Arab world against the United States, about the potential mess of urban warfare and civilian casualties. 'I think the getting in is the dangerous part,' he says.

He worries considerably less about the day after.

'I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Iraq, properly managed -- and it's going to take a lot of attention, and the stakes are enormous, much higher than Afghanistan -- that it really could turn out to be, I hesitate to say it, the first Arab democracy, or at least the first one except for Lebanon's brief history,' he says. 'And even if it makes it only Romanian style, that's still such an advance over anywhere else in the Arab world.'
"Stupidity" isn't really the problem. It's lack of humility. Hans Morgenthau:
Mr. Rostow has a powerful, brilliant, and creative mind. How could such a mind produce such trash? The answer lies in the corruption of power and the defenselessness of the intellectual in the face of it. The intellectual as a social type is singularly deprived of the enjoyment of power and eminently qualified to understand its importance and what it means not to have it. Thus campuses and literary circles abound with empire builders, petty politicians, and sordid intriguers—all seekers after power, the substance of which eludes them. When an intellectual finds himself in the seat of power he is tempted to equate the power of his intellect with the power of his office. As he could mould the printed word to suit his ideas so he now expects the real world to respond to his actions. Hence his confidence in himself, his pride, his optimism; hence, also, the absence of the tragic sense of life, of humility, of that fear and trembling with which great statesmen have approached their task, knowing that in trying to mould the political world they must act like gods, without the knowledge, the wisdom, the power, and the goodness which their task demands.
I'm still curious what evidence you have, if any, to support Vail's "intentional instability" theory.
posted by russilwvong at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2006


[PNAC was] on record before Bush was even elected that they wanted to create instability in Iraq to justify a permanent military presence.

Again, please cite. Where did PNAC advocate creating civil war and instability in Iraq (as opposed to the Technicolor fantasy about Iraq being the "cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East", liberation, sweets and flowers, etc.)?
posted by russilwvong at 3:34 PM on June 22, 2006


Remember that PNAC did not arrive out of thin air. It is a group that has deep roots in America and Israel, and various think tanks and groups through the years. PNAC's plans are most directly tied to the paper delivered by Richard Perle to Bibi Netanyahu during his reelection campaign, which was titled "A Clean Break: Securing the Realm" (link). It talks vaguely about removing Hussein from power and about tribal alliances in both Lebanon and Iraq.

Another very important document, from 1982, which was embraced by the neo-cons and others in the United States, was "The Zionist Plan for the Middle East" by Oded Yinon (link) which reads in part:

"The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel's primary target on the Eastern frontIraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel's targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.

"An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.
posted by cell divide at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2006


I just watched today's CNN interview of Dick Cheney on Iraq, and the frustration CNN's John King showed in trying to get a straight answer to simple questions out of the V.P. was palpable. Regardless of what he was asked, Cheney never varied from "the message" and except for rhetorical devices, never directly responded to King's questions. Time after time, King broke into the V.P.'s canned comments, to try to interject a fact, a current poll result, or some semblance of a human question, and when the reaction shot cut back to the interview camera on the V.P., there was nothing but the famous Cheney dead fish face, and the droning monologue of the "message." "We have a plan, it's a good plan, it would be wrong to pull out, we'd encourage the terrorists, we have to stay the course, blah, blah, blah...."

Cheney wasn't listening, wasn't being interviewed, wasn't thinking about questions he was being asked, wasn't demonstrating any capacity for thought, or even the simple courtesy of listening, to the point of asking a single clarification question of his own to his interviewer, which is the minimal sign of engaged interviewee. He's just a dead fish faced human jukebox, playing back stock phrases from the book of "the message."A dolt, as it were.

For 320 billion dollars, and 2500+ dead American troops, the American public deserves better. The simple appearance, however poorly fit, of a shred of respect for alternative views from Mr. Dead Fish Cheney would be a minimal start. Some simple admission that not only has this administration made serious mistakes all along in its Iraq policy, and sees a need to change policy in light of new facts would be too much to hope for, but it's what real leaders would do.

Until he himself grows some ears, Cheney's not worth hearing anymore, and we'll learn nothing from him, nor be led anywhere worth following. And by this time in tomorrow's news cycle, "the message" will have cost us another $300 million, and maybe more American lives, for sure. A song sung by dolts, not worth a scrap of what we'll have paid to have it sung, but the only tune the dolts know.

And from this point forward, yes, I agree, leaving the dolts we've elected in power is our own crime, as members of the body politic. If they won't listen, and won't search for workable policies acceptable to the majority of the country, we've a duty to turn them out, ASAP. Let's get started.
posted by paulsc at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2006


the neocon goal is the utopian fantasy of bringing democracy to the Middle East by fire and sword.

Yes, but.. What kind of democracy do you think they meant? The kind they have in Japan, Britain, Germany, or Sweden? Perhaps the kind they had in South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem? We know they didn't mean the kind of democracy they have in Venezuala, or the one from 1972 Chile.
posted by Chuckles at 7:21 PM on June 22, 2006


Seconding Chuckles.

Also, did Mefi break the Foreign Affairs site? I can't connect. Wahhh.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 7:23 PM on June 22, 2006


Chuckles: What kind of democracy do you think they meant?

Wolfowitz cites post-Ceaucescu Romania.

My guess is that when Bush talks about "democratic" regimes what he really has in mind is "US-friendly". (Hamas was elected, after all, but it doesn't seem to make the US happy.) In other words, the goal was to make the Middle East a US sphere of influence. Naturally, Iran isn't going to go along with this.
posted by russilwvong at 7:41 PM on June 22, 2006


also, don't overlook the possibility that the administration shifted gears at some point and has started opportunistically trying to exploit the increasing instability in the region to further its original policy goals. oil executives (and hyper-competitive executive-types in general, in my experience) are nothing if not opportunistic, and understandably so: in the business world, opportunism is the coin of the realm; don't forget these guys all come from that world. for some, the idea of "turning problems into opportunities" is more than just a cliche--it's practically a religion.

But I don't see the American way of life as anything sacrosanct or even worth preserving necessarily. I think that the longer we wait before moving in that direction, the more suffering and woe it will entail, but I also know that not everyone agrees with my assessment.

I have a minor disagreement on this point. IMO, this war has never been about protecting the American way of life (which at least in theory centers on constitutionally protected freedoms and a spirit of enlightened humanism)--rather, from the start it's been about protecting the American lifestyle.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 PM on June 22, 2006


In other words, the goal was to make the Middle East a US sphere of influence.

I think saulgoodman's interpretation on that scale is great. It is more of an evolutionary process than it is a plan.

We know that there were going to be permanent US military bases in Iraq, that was part of the plan. They probably planed for it to happen through the agreement of a sympathetic but marginalized "democratic" government. On the other hand, I suspect that the worst case scenario which so disgusted most of the world - what is happening now, basically - probably didn't look all that bad to the types of people jefgodesky is talking about.

Does the US intentionally marginalize other nations, or is it just coincidence that it happens so often?

If I had to guess, I'd say saulgoodman and jefgodesky are talking about very different versions of "the American way of life" :P But maybe that is too much of a digression.
posted by Chuckles at 8:09 PM on June 22, 2006


The best summary I know comes from a fictional character, "Bryan Woodman," Matt Damon's character from Syriana: "What are they thinking? They're thinking that it's running out. It's running out... and ninety percent of what's left is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death."

Interesting that you mention this movie. There is a strong current of father-son debt and obligation expressed throughout Syriana. From Bob Barnes' sad and ambiguous relationship with his son, to Holliday's pity and love for his alcoholic father, to Woodman trying to avenge the death of his son, to the Prince's attempt to redo his country after his father runs it into the ground...

Linking the movie directly to Iraq would have killed it outright at the box office, aging it quickly. I can't help but think Syriana smartly references, in an oblique and stylish way, the dysfunctional relationship between Bush II and Bush I, where the son tries to outdo the father, with such amazingly tragic results. It's very cleverly written.
posted by Mr. Six at 8:33 PM on June 22, 2006


The new US embassy being constructed in Baghdad is a prime example – the world's largest such building, and indeed not so much an embassy as a small town. Constructed largely by non-Iraqi labour, with the lead contractor from Kuwait, the $592 million complex is already one third finished and is scheduled for completion in mid-2007. It will have an estimated 1,000 staff, comprise two office blocks and a number of apartment buildings, contain its own leisure facilities, be independent of the thoroughly unreliable Baghdad electricity and water supplies, and boast exceptionally high levels of security, including a substantial marine-corps barracks.

The complex will maintain the closest of relationships with future Iraqi governments, not least because such governments will be dependent on a substantial US presence at a series of "super-bases", four of which are currently being developed. The most advanced is Balad, north of Baghdad, which had $228.7 million allocated to it in 2005; two other facilities are getting substantial upgrades – al-Asad in the west (with a $46.3 million expenditure for 2006) and Tallil in the south (aiming for $110.3 million).

Balad is strategically close to Baghdad but sufficiently away from major urban concentrations to avoid continual attacks from insurgents, and the other centres – including al-Qayyarah in the north – are similarly remote. At the same time, the three bases away from Baghdad are very usefully located to secure the main oil reserves. Iraq's current oilfields are either in the south (covered by Tallil) or in the north (covered by al-Qayyarah); there is an expectation that future exploration will uncover substantial further reserves in the western desert (conveniently watched over by the camp at al-Asad).

All four bases have been built up from ones originally developed by the Saddam Hussein regime, but the rate of building and modernisation has been remarkable. Al-Asad currently has 17,000 troops and construction workers stationed in an area of forty-two square kilometres, with Burger King, Subway and Pizza Hut franchises already open and a car dealership and Hertz rental agency within the complex. Two bus routes connect different parts of the base, which is sixteen kilometres from the nearest town. At Tallil, a 6,000-seater mess hall is planned. At all four installations, most of the personnel never leave the protected areas.

Balad airbase and the adjacent Camp Anaconda are the most notable examples. Balad alone has 25,000 military and civilian personnel and has been the subject of a massive expansion of its facilities for handling aircraft and helicopters (with a large involvement by Turkish companies). Two large air transport ramps (hard-standings) have been constructed: one for C-5 cargo planes – the largest in US airforce service – and another for the C-130 Hercules workhorses to service the C-130 squadron that was transferred in January 2006 to Balad from Kuwait.

Perhaps most indicative of all, though, are the new helicopter facilities. These include a recently completed ramp that accommodates 120 helicopters, one of the largest military concentrations anywhere in the world. According to the site commander, Brigadier-General Frank Gorenc, Balad is now averaging 27,500 air movements a month, making it second only to London's Heathrow airport in the world.

...Balad, Tallil and al-Qayyarah are well within the borders of Iraq, set back a long way from the border with Iran and therefore within heavily-protected airspace. At the same time, they stretch from north to south along the western side of Iran, making them eminently suitable for air operations against Iran. Their size and capabilities make them superior to aircraft carriers in this respect, especially if an initial attack on Iranian nuclear facilities resulted in Iranian responses that required long-term bombing campaigns against a range of targets in Iran.
A parallel universe
posted by y2karl at 10:01 PM on June 22, 2006


I think it is condescending at best to have this whole discussion as if Iraqi people and leaders had zero control over their own destiny, and were just the helpless pawns of a chess game far larger than their abilities to control or influence.

Just as insurgents with simple bombs on highways are unambiguosly demonstrating limits and vulnerabilities to US military power. People are never helpless, and it is wrong to exclude the former Iraqi regime and people from responsibility for what their country is going through right now.

There were different choices the leadership could have made, and there were different choices the people could have made.

The people most responsible for the current chaos in Iraq are Iraqis.
posted by extrabox at 10:07 PM on June 22, 2006


"... The people most responsible for the current chaos in Iraq are Iraqis.
posted by extrabox at 1:07 AM EST on June 23 [+fave] [!]"


Seymour Hersh, writing for The New Yorker, begs to differ. Apparently, 8 million purple fingers can't be trusted to set up a reliable U.S. ally, all by themselves.
posted by paulsc at 11:57 PM on June 22, 2006


The Iraqi government is going to be announcing a peace plan this weekend that includes "a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:29 AM on June 23, 2006


But Marshall's article does not support your theory that the neocon goal is "intentional instability."

I think you're pulling minor statements of the neocon end goal, and ignoring the main point of the article, written even in the byline: "Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks' nightmare scenario--it's their plan." Yes, they want to establish democracy through the Middle East, but they intend to do that by creating instability.

I think your careful parsing of RAD is becoming fairly pedantic. Yes, they mention the bases in Saudi Arabia as well, with some obvious frustration that they have to rotate their forces there, but they talk explicitly about using the situation with Saddam as the immediate justification for a permanent U.S. military prescence in the Persian Gulf. Given that this is coming directly from the very same people who took us to war with Iraq, I'd say it's very telling about their goals for that conflict.

I'd describe it more like this: the neoconservatives, especially Wolfowitz, lobbied very hard to overthrow Saddam Hussein. They believed that the US could transform the Middle East into a US sphere of influence, installing friendly, more or less democratic governments; their inspiration was post-Cold War Eastern Europe.

Neoconservatism is founded on Leo Strauss' idea that to preserve the American way of life, we need a common enemy, and a sense of nationalism that creates. For them, Clinton's administration proved how much the United States needed a war to unite around. Strauss adapted the Trotskyist notions of the ongoing revolution and the revolutionary vanguard, suggesting that those leading the campaign have a moral duty to lie to the people to promote "a necessary myth." So no, they had no postwar plan, and the goal of a democratic Middle East (and the threat of terrorism) are the goal and the enemies, respectively, they're now using to replace the role they had once given to spreading democracy and the USSR (the same neoconservatives who pushed for war in Iraq were instrumental in creating many of the Cold War fears that plagued the U.S. in the 1980s, when they first rose to power under Reagan). We are agreed that there is an incredible amount of hubris implicit in such a scheme, but I think the difference is I assume that they may be hubristic, but are probably nominally competent, while I think you are more persuaded by the "necessary myth" they've meticulously put forward. Perhaps that seems conspiratorial, but again, that is precisely what they've admitted to.

Again, please cite. Where did PNAC advocate creating civil war and instability in Iraq (as opposed to the Technicolor fantasy about Iraq being the "cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East", liberation, sweets and flowers, etc.)?

I already did: that's what Rebuilding America's Defenses says quite explicitly, that they want to use the ongoing threat of Saddam to justify a permanent U.S. military prescence in the Persian Gulf.

cell divide - Thanks for that citation, I knew I'd read something like that somewhere, but after four years of this, it's hard to keep track where I read what, since I wasn't exactly keeping notes through it all.

Cheney wasn't listening, wasn't being interviewed, wasn't thinking about questions he was being asked, wasn't demonstrating any capacity for thought, or even the simple courtesy of listening, to the point of asking a single clarification question of his own to his interviewer, which is the minimal sign of engaged interviewee. He's just a dead fish faced human jukebox, playing back stock phrases from the book of "the message."A dolt, as it were.

I think you're contradicting yourself there. Have you ever been grilled by a good interviewer, while trying to stay "on message"? It's hard, and takes a good bit of mental agility. It's infuriating for the interviewer, and often the audience, and you can say what you will about stonewalling and so forth, but a "dolt"? No, I think it's much easier to just answer the questions than to keep up with that kind of journalistic gymnastics. I take his ability to stonewall as a testament to the idea that he does have something going on upstairs.

My guess is that when Bush talks about "democratic" regimes what he really has in mind is "US-friendly". (Hamas was elected, after all, but it doesn't seem to make the US happy.) In other words, the goal was to make the Middle East a US sphere of influence. Naturally, Iran isn't going to go along with this.

I think that's exactly correct.

also, don't overlook the possibility that the administration shifted gears at some point and has started opportunistically trying to exploit the increasing instability in the region to further its original policy goals. oil executives (and hyper-competitive executive-types in general, in my experience) are nothing if not opportunistic, and understandably so: in the business world, opportunism is the coin of the realm; don't forget these guys all come from that world. for some, the idea of "turning problems into opportunities" is more than just a cliche--it's practically a religion.

That may be true, but anyone with even a cursory understanding of Iraq knew this would happen. Bush, Sr. told his son this would happen. The neoconservatives who pushed for this are not idiots—Perle and Wolfowitz are not idiots—they knew this would happen. To not know this would happen requires a complete ignorance of Iraq's cultural topography, so of course, most Americans didn't know it, but I knew it, and lots of other people knew it, too.

Maybe they are just idiots bumbling along who just happened to exactly follow the plan they laid out meticulously over a period of some ten years. Or maybe, they're not idiots, they're following the plan they laid out, and they're pulling us along with their "necessary myth" into thinking it's something it's not.

I have a minor disagreement on this point. IMO, this war has never been about protecting the American way of life (which at least in theory centers on constitutionally protected freedoms and a spirit of enlightened humanism)--rather, from the start it's been about protecting the American lifestyle.

In my mind, "way of life" is synonymous with "lifestyle," and has little to nothing to do with political theory.

The people most responsible for the current chaos in Iraq are Iraqis.

Iraq was set up to fail. Now, maybe Sunnis and Shi'ites could've come together and overcome their differences, and said, "Sure, you tortured my whole family before finally killing them, but when I think of this legal fiction imposed upon us by our former oppressors called, 'Iraq,' well, I just feel such a swell of pride! We need to preserve Iraq as our European masters created it, and that means we need to put aside our old grudges and live in peace now."

That could've happened, but it didn't. It was always horribly unlikely. Why should Iraqis invest anything at all in this thing called "Iraq"? Everything they need or want comes from their tribal and sectarian loyalties; why should they do anything to help preserve this artificial construct that's so alien and irrelevant to their lives?

Why should they not take this opportunity for revenge on the people who tortured, raped and killed them and everyone they know and love for the past 30+ years?

You've given them every reason in the world to try to kill each other—and the United States, since most Shi'ites have at least one loved one they lost in 1991 when we betrayed them the first time (see Three Kings for a dramatic treatment of what I'm talking about)—and absolutely no reason whatsoever why they shouldn't.

Well, it is true that they are the ones committing these violent acts, so if you really need to pin responsibility on someone, I suppose you can, but that seems to me to be an incredibly shallow perspective on what's happened. I would say that the greater responsibility lies with those who were shown a way to create a stable region, and rejected it, because stability would leave them no opening for control.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2006


Jefgodesky, in a sense I think you want to have it both ways.

First you say that it would be ludicrous for Iraqi's to choose peace (maybe, maybe not...lots of advantages to living in peace). In other words, these people are autonomous individuals, and why on earth should they preserve this artifical construct that is alien and irrelevant?

But then you say that the only course of action they could take, given their history, is to perpetuate the chaos that their Western Overlords have foisted on them.

Which again makes them powerless actors in a drama utterly beyond their control.....Or, it means that they are powerful actors, responsible for their own actions, fighting for a world view that will no longer be "alien and irrelevant".

I don't wish to assign responsibility, so much as to point out that your assigning of all responsibility for Iraq's current instability (to the Bush Cabal) is, as pointed out condescending, and misses much of the picture, and, in doing so, betrays a common blindspot often on display with these debates.

Although Shia deathsquads are more prevelant now, and perhaps Zarqawi did ignite an uncontrollable Sectarian firestorm, it seems clear that the vast majority of the violence and chaos in Iraq is the direct result of the Sunni's reacting to their loss of totalitarian power over the majority populace.

And in regards to Hersch's article about the January elections, I think it makes the opposite point - that despite US efforts to intervene, the majority democratic choices unfolded largely indifferent to outside attempts to manipulate results.
posted by extrabox at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2006


a common enemy, and a sense of nationalism that creates. For them, Clinton's administration proved how much the United States needed a war to unite around.

And yet, the mounting public opinion against this war? I fail to see any rallying other than the initial support and the last hold outs in the bible belt. The day drags on and public opinion has sharply turned sharply against this venture with no rebound in sight. I can hardly believe they've forgotten the lessons learned from Vietnam. The only thing that would cause popular opinion to support this (and the neo-cons in power) any further is another, greater threat materializing or some sort of last minute miracle fabricated by the administration. There may well be a 'North Korean' nuking before the elections, after all. If I were feeling paranoid, I would wonder if the NK missile test launch could serve as a perfect frame up and cover for a sub replacing the test with something slightly more proven, like a trident. There wouldn't be much evidence left, after all. (Yes, yes, I know it's insane, tinfoil hat blah blah blah. Just Speculation. Maybe it's what I would do, were it were possible and I a crazed megalomaniac. Oh, and if there wasn't ten million sensors and telescopes pointed at it.).

Of course, it may already be to late, with the damage done to our political system and our ability to do much about it permanent.

But then, maybe I'm being overly optimistic. Maybe too many of my fellow Americans really are stupid, bloodthirsty warmongers who think Iran is a suburb of Australia and want an invasion post haste. Not that I can really blame them so much, they are surrounded by terrists on all sides and dying in the streets, right? I would be bloodthirsty too. Oh, wait ......

I need a nap.
posted by IronLizard at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2006


I don't wish to assign responsibility, so much as to point out that your assigning of all responsibility for Iraq's current instability (to the Bush Cabal) is, as pointed out condescending, and misses much of the picture, and, in doing so, betrays a common blindspot often on display with these debates.

Actually, I mostly blame Britain, but you're misunderstanding me. Iraqis are individuals, and individuals always have the power to choose what they will or won't do. Groups, however, are much more predictable, because not all choices are equally likely. In this particular case, the violence may proximately be the Iraqis' own doing, but they were put into a situation where they would need to be a nation of walking Buddhas to do otherwise. If you push someone off a cliff, it may be trivially correct to say it's the person's own fault for not grabbing onto the cliff face at some point in the fall and digging his way back up, but I would say that it's much more appropriate to place the blame on the one who pushed him off the cliff.

And yet, the mounting public opinion against this war?

I would say that, rather than the insurgency, is the first thing to not go according to the neoconservative plan.

I would wonder if the NK missile test launch could serve as a perfect frame up and cover for a sub replacing the test with something slightly more proven, like a trident.

I tend to believe there are enough actual threats that can simply be exaggerated (a la Saddam Hussein), without having to resort to the far more difficult task of creating one from whole cloth. Though it is true that Perle has been pushing for a war with China for some time. I'm not sure if the rest of the neoconservatives are insane enough to pursue that plan, but it's possible.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2006


jefgodesky, thanks for your response.

I think you're pulling minor statements of the neocon end goal, and ignoring the main point of the article, written even in the byline: "Chaos in the Middle East is not the Bush hawks' nightmare scenario--it's their plan." Yes, they want to establish democracy through the Middle East, but they intend to do that by creating instability.

Not in Iraq. As I understand it, Vail's "Intentional Instability" theory is that the chaos in Iraq is intentional, a way for the US to justify bases in Iraq. Marshall: Then there is the mother of all problems, Iraq. The hawks' whole plan rests on the assumption that we can turn it into a self-governing democracy--that the very presence of that example will transform politics in the Middle East.

The hawk plan (perhaps better called a fantasy) was to turn Iraq into a democracy, thereby putting pressure on its non-democratic neighbors and causing instability there, not in Iraq.

I think your careful parsing of RAD is becoming fairly pedantic.

I prefer to describe it as precise.

To me, the idea that civil war in Iraq will justify having military bases in Iraq doesn't make any sense. These bases will be under continuous attack by insurgents. Resupplying them will be a nightmare. Their very presence will be an ongoing grievance against the United States (which is why so many of the proposals for an exit strategy include saying up front that the US will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq). How can the US have bases in a country undergoing civil war?

As I understand it, the hawks' plan was to set up a stable, friendly government which would then host US bases, as in Japan or West Germany. To me, Marshall's article (like the many other books and articles describing the hawks' thinking) is strong evidence in favor of this "wishful thinking" model, as opposed to the "intentional instability" model.

Leo Strauss isn't really the kind of evidence I'm looking for.

We are agreed that there is an incredible amount of hubris implicit in such a scheme--

Agreed. The sooner these arrogant fools are out of power, the better.

Which brings us back to the original post: once sanity returns, then what? What should the US do at that point?

Daniel Benjamin argues that the worst-case scenario is limited (in particular, that it's not possible for the Islamists to take over), that the US doesn't have much control over the situation, and so it should withdraw (planning the withdrawal more carefully than the occupation). There'll be huge costs (the jihadists will immediately claim it as a victory, jihadists will return to their home countries and try to ignite war there as well), but they're unavoidable.

The other commentators (like Stephen Biddle) argue that the US ought not to give up yet on the possibility of a stable compromise between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds. Presumably this would mean negotiating with the Sunnis, either through political representatives or even with the main insurgent groups directly, while maintaining military pressure.

When it's stated like this, I can see why Benjamin is pessimistic. Does the US really have the diplomatic skill required to broker a compromise between this many disparate groups? (The Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds each have sub-groups, e.g. Sistani and al-Sadr.)

Anthony Cordesman notes that even if the US fails in Iraq, its interests in the region prevent it from withdrawing completely. He argues that the US ought to continue the effort into 2010, at least. If staying the course in Iraq becomes impossible, US and British forces may have to leave, but the US and Britain cannot “exit” the Gulf region. They must still make every effort to work with other states and the international community to make Iraq a viable state. They must take diplomatic and military action to try to limit Iranian and Turkish interference and keep Iraq from becoming a battle ground between Sunni and Shia that could divide the Middle East. The problem of Iranian nuclear proliferation and links to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will still need US and European involvement and military capability to deter and contain Iran. At most, US forces can only “exit” to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE, and a UK naval presence and regional influence will be just as critical as ever.
posted by russilwvong at 10:16 AM on June 23, 2006


Well, a sensible plan for what to do now is very different from what those in power plan to do. I'm convinced that the best we can do now is to withdraw from the region completely. Yes, the result will be civil war, but there's already a civil war. However long that will take to unfold is largely unaffected by what we do or don't do, I think, but we can prolong the current chaos, or shorten it, so that in the end the period of suffering will be however long the civil war will take, plus however long we stay in Iraq. All we can do now is shorten that additional period. The time to worry about Iraq dissolving into civil war, I think, was in 1932.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2006


I'm convinced that the best we can do now is to withdraw from the region completely.

From Iraq, or from the entire region? Those are two very different alternatives.
posted by russilwvong at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2006


russilwvong, jefgodesky, your positions remind me of that old Bill Clinton interview by Amy Goodman.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can. You are calling radio stations to tell people to get out and vote. What do you say to people who feel that the two parties are bought by corporations, and that they are ... at this point feel that their vote doesn't make a difference?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: There's just not a shred of evidence to support that. That's what I would say.
I mean, who knows what a person's motivations really are, all we can do is look at the patterns, look at the outcomes..

Sure, Bush might have intended that there would be a puppet democracy in Iraq. Sure, second choice was a benevolent (or not so benevolent) replacement dictator who they could push around. Sure, instability/insurgency was the last choice. To me, that is all splitting hairs, because all they really wanted was control.
posted by Chuckles at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2006


To me, that is all splitting hairs, because all they really wanted was control.

Kinda hard to control a country that's dissolved into civil war.

I mean, who knows what a person's motivations really are, all we can do is look at the patterns, look at the outcomes..

I guess. I still think that it's possible to look at evidence to identify motives, and that you shouldn't ascribe motives to people without evidence. A big part of diplomatic history is exactly the task of assembling such evidence.

You can get a lot of propaganda mileage out of attributing evil motives to your enemies and virtuous motives to yourselves.

Back to the topic:

Gungho: Put Iraq back in the condition it was before WWI and British Imperial interferance it was created. I.E. Three separate entities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra

Cordesman: Three Iraqs would be one big problem. The dividing lines aren't that neat. There's lots of mixed Sunni-Shiite families, for example.
posted by russilwvong at 11:19 AM on June 23, 2006


I guess. I still think that it's possible to look at evidence to identify motives, and that you shouldn't ascribe motives to people without evidence. A big part of diplomatic history is exactly the task of assembling such evidence.

Okay, I accept this, you're right.

One of your previous quotations:
The third striking thing about Wolfowitz is an optimism about America's ability to build a better world. He has an almost missionary sense of America's role. In the current case, that means a vision of an Iraq not merely purged of cataclysmic weaponry, not merely a threat disarmed, but an Iraq that becomes a democratic cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East. Given the fatalism that prevails about this most flammable region of the world, that is an audacious optimism indeed.
Why did they decide to try this great democratizing project, while also trying to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of the American military with a tiny expeditionary force?

In fact, there were many motives; some they talked about, some are speculation. We have talked about democracy a lot, but what about the others. There were a whole family of reasons to get rid of Saddam: he was a defiant servant, he was dangerous, W. wanted to clean up daddy's mess. They wanted military bases to replace the ones they lost in Saudi Arabia. They wanted control over the oil. They wanted to demonstrate the awesome power of a small American military force. They wanted the world to see they were serious about the doctrine of preemption. Others?

Which of these motivations was core to the decision, and which was seen as a side bonus. What costs did they see, which compromises were they willing to make..
posted by Chuckles at 6:56 PM on June 23, 2006


Why did they decide to try this great democratizing project, while also trying to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of the American military with a tiny expeditionary force?

I'm speculating, but I'd guess that one reason is that the Bush administration places very high importance on domestic politics (consider the influence of Rove vs. Powell, for example). They thought it'd be much harder to get domestic support for a large-scale, expensive war, like the first Gulf War, so they tried to do it fast and cheap.

Hans Morgenthau ("The Unfinished Business of United States Foreign Policy", 1953) describes
the dilemma between the requirements of domestic politics and foreign policy. In order to be able to pursue its foreign policies, a democratic government must make these policies acceptable to the people. Yet what is acceptable to the people is frequently at variance with the conditions for success in foreign policy. What the people usually want is quick and spectacular success achieved at a minimum of cost and effort; what a successful foreign policy generally requires is patience and the sacrifice of short-term advantage for the attainment of long-term objectives. The conciliation of these two requirements demands a high order of courage and statesmanship.
This is an administration which puts tax cuts above sound fiscal policy. They're not exactly big on patience and short-term sacrifice.

Another reason would be simple arrogance. They lacked humility, or any awareness of how badly things could go wrong. They thought George H. W. Bush and Powell were much too cautious in the first Gulf War, that they could do it better and faster.
posted by russilwvong at 12:32 AM on June 24, 2006



posted by homunculus at 11:57 AM on June 25, 2006


fwiw, george "stratfor" friedman is on board :D
The United States has managed its position in Iraq -- to the extent that it has been managed -- by manipulating the Sunni-Shiite fault line in the Muslim world. In the same way that Richard Nixon manipulated the Sino-Soviet split, the fundamental fault line in the Communist world, to keep the Soviets contained and off-balance late in the Vietnam War, so the Bush administration has used the primordial fault line in the Islamic world, the Sunni-Shiite split, to manipulate the situation in Iraq.

Washington did this on a broader scale as well. Having enticed Iran with new opportunities -- both for Iran as a nation and as the leading Shiite power in a post-Saddam world -- the administration turned to Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and enticed them into accommodation with the United States by allowing them to consider the consequences of an ascended Iran under canopy of a relationship with the United States. Washington used that vision of Iran to gain leverage in Saudi Arabia. The United States has been moving back and forth between Sunnis and Shia since the invasion of Afghanistan, when it obtained Iranian support for operations in Afghanistan's Shiite regions. Each side was using the other. The United States, however, attained the strategic goal of any three-player game: It became the swing player between Sunnis and Shia.
like they're ppl who want fatah and hamas to tear each other apart...

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:10 PM on June 26, 2006


hey :P

straussians apparently have a "faith in doubt" that sorta translates into some kinda faith in submission or something:
I observed during my time at Chicago two distinct strands of Straussians. I'll call one strand "the gentlemen" and the other strand "the Nietzscheans."

Granting your point about Strauss's skepticism, there are two paths you can go down from there; but first, there is an intermediate step: once you grant that the most appropriate response to the most difficult questions about life is skepticism, what does one do with "the many," as the Straussians call them? Can ALL human beings (ALL prisoners in Plato's cave) really accept that there are no certain answers to life's most pressing questions? Can everyone be a philosopher?

Strauss's answer seems to have been: No, they cannot. Most human beings need answers, and they become very dangerous when denied them. Bear in mind what they did to Socrates, after all. So, the next question is, what answers to give them? To give a definite answer when you don't really have one (remember: skepticism is a given here) is to lie. To lie in order to prevent harm is to lie nobly. For Strauss, the many need noble lies...

The gentlemen (for example, Cropsey), as best I could tell, believe that skeptical moderation is good for its own sake, and that moderate noble lies are also best for a stable polity. That means one's political myths must encourage the decent virtues as much as possible. It means that the noble lies ("All men are created equal," for example) are not entirely false or implausible. The gentlemen are thus very close to the Strauss described by Smith in his book.

The Nietzscheans (for example, Bloom) take another path from the skeptical starting point. For them, there is one truth that IS certain: the distinction between those human beings who CAN endure the fact that there are no certain answers and those who CANNOT endure it. The Nietzschean Straussians that I knew as graduate students were utterly dismissive of the many ordinary human beings; they believed the scales had fallen from their own eyes and that they had been liberated from ordinary morality. Moderation is good only as a means or a mask, not good in itself. Yet at the same time, they understood Strauss's cautions about the limits of general Enlightenment and public reason. And so for them, the best regime was the American one, a regime that permits freedom of thought for the philosophers and, for the many, freedom for politics, for hard work, and (alas) for self-indulgence -- despite the risk of a plunge into consumerism and philistinism. Hence "The End of History and the Last Man" -- by a student of Bloom's. (Everyone forgets the last man part: it's not necessarily a happy ending.)

These Nietzscheanized Straussians that I observed truly believed in their superiority and in their right to influence politics and public affairs. Yes, as a student in his 20's mellows into his 40's and 50's, he will lose some of the Nietzschean hubris -- but perhaps not the conviction that the many need noble lies that he knows to be false. Not the conviction that he knows best, and can apply this knowledge universally. Hence Wolfowitz, the WMD feint in order to bring on war in Iraq, the plan to seed democracy throughout the Middle East and end all tyranny, the Rumsfeldian arrogance, etc. Disaster.
seems like what there're missing is a faith in discovery...

kimota!
posted by kliuless at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2006


jefgodesky,

If Bush is really crazy like a fox as you say then I am not sure why we are spending like we are on this war. This war is bankrupting us. We are losing big time. We won't be a dominant force in the world if things continue like this for any prolonged period of time.

Bush always wanted to invade Iraq, it's true. He said that his father should have stayed in Iraq, and that if he had he would have won against Clinton. Bush believed in three mantras of neo-conservatism: The country unites against a common enemy, the US will perform better with a smaller government, and Reagan proved that dictatorships can be easily toppled. Bush didn't need to be a dipshit to believe this stuff, but he did need to be foolhardy and dangerously presumptious to buy into it wholesale. He acted on these beliefs with abandon: bankrupting our government and starting this war.

There's nothing smart about it, and if at the end of the day we have bases around the oil and take it all for ourselves we will still not have gotten our money back. We will still have our energy problems. And unless we want to take on the whole world we will be forced to share the oil. That Iraq will be de-stabilized does not seem to me a benefit. It only makes Iraq more of a breeding ground for terrorism and pits more Muslim sentiment against the US.
posted by xammerboy at 6:23 PM on July 10, 2006


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