Friday, January 12, 2007

Response to MD

A comment on the last post from MD.

His comment first--my response following:

Matthew writes:

Since you are already on record as characterizing the Iraq war as lost, it strikes me as disingenuous that you'd suggest that you "could" support the surge. I kind of don't buy that. Besides that, I don't know what right-wing you are talking about, but the serious conservatives formulate the current scenario as this being the last chance for victory. Such as the John Podhoretz column I blogged about today. Or the VDH pieces. And, "when" the surge fails. Huh. Like, Chris, you know how this will turn out? Well, I hope you are very wrong.

My response....


First off I hope I am wrong. I hope people in Baghdad, Iraqi and American achieve safety, I just sadly don't see it happening.

But overall I want to say thank you for proving my point. I have not characterized the war as lost. I believe the war was won in 2003. I believe the post-war conflict stablization was lost some 5-6 months after that. So in that sense I've thought that aspect was lost since 2004 or so. And that isn't being cheeky or just a rhetorical dance.

The problem as I have argued repeatedly is that we still see this as fundamentally a war. In other words when you think the problem is military, you think the answer must be military. Hence more troops. And worse, in war there are winners and losers. In these state break ups there is no such thing as 100% victory. For one, with the spread of global communications, easy access to weaponry and the black market plus unemployment (ugly mix), there is no complete destruction of insurgents, jihadis, whoever.

Again there is no 100% victory in this new form of post-Cold War conflict. There wasn't in the Balkans. Imo one of Bush's major flaws has been to not make clear to the American public the nature of the fight in this "Long War". And no rhetoric like fighting evil and Islamo-fascism doesn't cut it. I mean that it is about re-building nation-states. It can be slow. There will be short term gains and setbacks (and setbacks on the gains) but the real issue is getting the country in a direction. And sometimes that means the re-drawing of boundaries, even the dissolution of a state. That is if our foreign policy goal for the 21st century is, as I argue it should be, bringing the disconnected world to the connected world. Because then Bush is right democracies--rule of law, market democracies--do not start wars with one another. Prior to that evolution, democracies start wars all the time--with themselves and others.

Because the discourse is so light/dark there is victory or withdraw. I say neither. I say make the best of what now remains and for God's sakes learn for next time. And there will be a next time. Many next times.

Particularly no 100% victory when the plan is not locked into ANY political settlement. What I don't get from VDH, Podhoretz or whomever is that they have no concept of what victory means, as far as I can tell. Worse still the President for me fits that category.

What do it mean to talk about "victory" in Iraq? Please answer that question. I mean really answer it---all the bad guys killed? Oil and electricity back up to pre-Saddam levels? The government in control of the country? All of Iraq wanting live together in peace and freedom? What is victory? [What was victory in Vietnam now that Bush has been there and the country is pro-capitalist and not a haven for Commies and terrorists? Did we lose in Vietnam, did we win?]

The PM of Iraq does not want more US troops. He wants to handle the insurgency himself--meaning using the Shia militia to wipe out the Sunnis. Roughly 80% of polled Iraqis want the US troops out. So our decision to do this, right or wrong is a serious breach of Iraqi sovereignty, which is what we were supposedly creating in the first place. The Sunnis will see that as further evidence that the Shia are American stooges.

Case in point: the first major offensive in this surge has been bombardment of Sunni insurgents outside the Green Zone. That sends a clear signal.

As an American soldier I heard being interviewed the other day said (paraphrasing): we continue to win tactically and lose strategically. That's it in a nutshell. Armies can only put down, after much bloodshed, an insurgency. If the goal is to build a different political discourse/foundation for the country, the army can only kill people and cause their relatives to want to kill u in turn.

To me, this surge will be more of the same. Petraeus is very bright and will be doing a much better job on counterinsurgency--if Maliki doesn't stop the process which is strongly possible--and job creation.

But it is unfortunately too little too late, I fear. Again not as the war but as the stabilization. And in many other ways this is not a very different surge that has been tried repeatedly last year and failed each time. [Hence I said when it it an educated guess, but ur right should have been "if and when"].

We lost/lose strategically because the administration wants for Iraq what Iraqis do not want for themselves. The Shia no matter what Maliki says are cleansing Baghdad and have been systematically since the fall of Saddam. I see nothing that will prevent their takeover of the city. The Sunnis will continue to car bomb the hell out of it but that "insurgency" anymore is a sign of desperation, fear, and the recognition by the Sunnis that the Shia have now become ascendent and they will do nothing to jeopardize that position. Hence the Shia don't deal and no matter how much friction there is between say Sadr and Hakim at the end of the day Sistani can appeal to their common Shia unity to keep the front alive. Plus most power is held on thee local level anyway.

We lose strategically because we continue up til right now and including this surge to not have the right institutional-operational mechanism for what we are actually dealing with (not the war, the conflict). That is why I said this surge will fail. It's trying to use a hammer to drive a screw in.

Because we continue to see this only as war, then we think the American military can solve everything. And because the American military is the biggest and baddest on the planet, then this administration arrogantly assumes just changing military aspects solves the issue. The American military, this episode should teach us, can only do one thing unimpeded: break/destroy any military, destroy any group in a 1-1 fight.

It can not stabilize the post war area. This surge is no exception in my mind.

Iraq is a fake state created by the British and I do not think it can handle the forces of globalization and neo-tribalism unleashed thereby. All the Kings horses and all the kings 20,000 extra men can not put Iraq back together again. At best it would need a very de-centralized central government and three separate autonomous regions, which I imagine would vote themselves out after time.

When I said I could be in favor of a surge--insofar as its linked to an entirely different strategy--that is not disingenuous. Because I don't see this as the last chance for victory in a war, but rather another phase (very late in the game albeit) in the emerging new Middle East.

Also because I don't see it as "war-only" on the far side I am much more optimistic I think then you are. Minus a war with Iran that is. I see Kurdistan as a solid state to come and the Shia Iraq, especially if Iran co-opted, opening markets, entering the world sphere, etc. I think the Sunnis in Anbar are going to be hell bent on destruction and living in the past for probably another decade or more.

Bush never has an Option B and this case is no different. He has simply changed tactics without fundamentally reassessing the overall goals/strategy of Iraq, particularly as it relates to the region. Baker-Hamilton, for all its flaws, correctly skewered Bush on this point, which is why I think he just ignored it.

Bush has always been one step behind the evolution of the situation. First we were focused on Saddam and de-Baathification to miss an insurgency. Then we became so focused on an insurgency--and still are--that we have missed the civil war. Now that we may be taking small steps regarding the civil war, the next step, most dangerously, could be a regional war.

That is why I asked what happens after this fails? (if and when). There is no Plan B. The only Plan B I have heard from people like Ken Adelmann and other proponents of the surge is to give it one more shot, doesn't work, then leave. But again that is just the inverse of thinking that it is a war. i.e. They become Defeat-ocrats.

The Shia have won, the Kurds are their own country now, and the Sunnis are on the outs and there will be violence for awhile. What needs to be thought about it not how to make a democratic Iraq while simultaneously fighting Iran-Syria and having Israel go after Hezbollah for the future of a "moderate" Middle East, but what to do with the Shia Rise? What to do now that there are going to be blowback operations as jihadis return possibly in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. With Turkey so it doesn't go ape-s..t over Kurdistan and gets into the EU, so that Lebanon doesn't return to civil war, that the Gaza doesn't become Palestinian on Palestinian, and co-opting Iran. In other words learning to play Sunnis off Shias while trying to keep as much as possible the violence from spreading.

Really, how is this new plan different? Bush still thinks that there is going to be a unified democratic Iraq which is an ally in the War on Terror. He is still talking, as he did the other night, about al-Qaeda if we leave. If al-Qaeda wanted to be in Iraq, they would have done so already. The al-Qaeda in Iraq is Zarqawi's baby--they are near-enemy jihadists as opposed to bin Laden who is a far enemy one. Zarqawi's main enemies were the American as occupiers (not the American far away) and the Shia. They are more or less morphing in Iraq into a Sunni jihadist sect, dangerous there but not planning attacks on American soil.

There is no such "moderate" coalition within Iraq or the larger Middle East (except maybe the Kurds). No such group has legitimacy on the ground even if and especially if the Americans could pull a miracle out in Baghdad.

Even if we stablize Baghdad, who are we handing it over to? The Shia. This is a sectarian government who can live with the Sunnis only to the degree that are de-fanged, puppets of the Shia.

We have passed the point at which the old realist stability policy can work as the main frame of engagement. But it can't be thrown out completely. It has to be widened now to include (as Gen. Odom has called for) a new realism around balancing Sunni and Shia.

Give it one more chance for what? When the admnistration will not face what politically is on the rise. We are going to stabilize it (if we can) to handover to a government whose vision is different than ours. We have been weakened and isolated because the President and his staff will not accept that democracy is right now in that part of the world "ballotocracy"--used for sectarian ends.

Iraq is the borderland of that sectarianism and there will not be peace, I'm afraid, until like the Balkans, the communities are separated and then can finally go about creating a future. Bush has to let the thing break up and deal with the best of what is left to relieve this pressure. Period.


At 7:44 AM, Blogger MD said...

It is good to know that you hope you are wrong. That hasnt been clear at all.

So, for example, when you posted about at least one prominentt article by Fareed Zakaria that detailed the reasons why the war as lost, you didn't agree with him? Did you say he was wrong? My impression (from memory, I can't find it in google right now) is that you didn't say he was wrong.

Another impression: you write on the Iraq war as many do, that is, as if you do know what's going to happen. It is good to see you modify when to "if and when."

Someone recently asked me why I write about Iraq the way I do. I said, it is because there is so much awful prognostication out there, I have decided to write for the "left" in hopes of showing them how immoral it is to prognosticate with any kind of certainty, not to mention with so much vitriol and hate towards the president of this country.

I don't have time to deal with all the question begging, especially what you think I think about this or that. But to this:

Particularly no 100% victory when the plan is not locked into ANY political settlement. What I don't get from VDH, Podhoretz or whomever is that they have no concept of what victory means, as far as I can tell. Worse still the President for me fits that category.

I would say, this is a poor reading (my guess, one from actually not reading them very often) of especially VDH and President Bush's voluminious speeches on the matter. But your assertion would require 100 posts the length of yours to demonstrate to someone who wrote the above. That may sound harsh, but really. For all that you write, your handling of anything with the whiff of conservative or classically liberal is surprisingly thin. My own guess for the reason for his is that the programming of SD and SD-related formulation, which you have bought into, suggest that anything conservative is one to four levels of development lower than whatever the name for what you feel you argue for.

I know that once I started to throw out the SD stuff (and its cousins), schools of thought I once saw as developmentally lower were, in fact, not at all the case in any 100% way.

I mean, look at what you did with my comment. I mentioned VDH and Podhoretz merely because I had blogged about each the very day of my comment to you. You turn that into "what I don't get from VDH, Podhoretz, or whatever...". Or whatever! Like, that's all there is. That's as far as you can go with conservative thought -- two writers I mentioned in passing, for the sake of convenience, then of course the easiest cheap target of the bunch, President Bush. Saying NOTHING about what their points were. I only mentioned Podhoretz against your point about conservatives painting liberals in some way, from the previous post I commented on. (You: "Of course the right-wing has formulated this as either you are for the surge or for defeat.") I did not "prove your point", since you slid away from accountability here altogether. Politically, the American people aren't likely to allow a continued war in Iraq if this new round of reinforcements doesn't change the current tone there for the better. That's the "right-wing" view, and it is just potically realism, not "formulating" in a black/white mannner.

My point: you built this post, and one I previously commented on, as well as the ones about classical liberalism, on fundamental misconceptions--about people, and about perspectives. And then write a mile long so it literally makes it exhausting to respond to you. Which, as I've demonstrated, I'm deeply interested in doing, and have done, constantly, out of good faith and desire to dialog. But, really, your handling of my comments makes it quite tough.

Moving on...

You know, your boy Thomas Barnett has been quite praised by radio host Hugh Hewitt, not to mention near unanimously by his radio callers, after Barnett's recent stops at Hewitt's shows. (I try to listen to conservative talk radio as much as possible, but don't get to listen to Hewitt as much as I'd like.) But, you know, Whatever! They are just black and white people, huh.

Dude: The only people for whom the world is black and white are people who criticize others for seeing the world as black and white. It is profoundly patronizing, not to mention intellectually lazy, to suggest that anyone thinks this way, in their heart. Political pronoucements are keyed for political purposes.

Political statements that sound black and white do not corrolate with a like-psychography in the speakers's full person. When, for example, Reagan said "evil empire" to the USSR, he was criticized for seeing the world black and white. But, again, political pronouncements are for political purposes; people are idiots if they think Reagan, who was an actor by training and by disposition, did not see multiple perspectives, and know who to negotiate them. Same goes for everyone, no exceptions. I would think that you would understand this.

I see in your recent post you meditate upon Bush. Keep doing that. But go further, deeper into his shoes. The late President Ford said the presidency is a straight-jacket.


But whatever!


At 8:14 AM, Blogger MD said...

Bush has to let the thing break up and deal with the best of what is left to relieve this pressure. Period.

I assume, then, that it is reasonble to take this as the essence of your position on the Iraq War. Let me know if otherwise.

all best,

At 9:38 AM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Thanks as always for the response.

The whatever or what you take to be flippancy/laziness on my part is simply not wanting to get tied down to any one thinker. Of course there are many differences on this topic from different so-called right-wing writers.

But I'll do better to take your comments into account.

And I heard Barnett on Hugh Hewitt and unfortunately Hewitt got plenty of negative response. I should note that the negative was what Hewitt responded to, I'm sure there were positive ones as well. The comments section, don't know how representative those were, I read were largely critical.

Barnett has said that only right-wing or moderate left listen to him. No reason not to believe him on the point. The reason I'm hard on Bush and other conservative writers is because they are the only ones right now who have any chance of starting to see/implement this vision. Once people have gone deconsructionist left forget it. Don't think they usually ever turn back.

So no I don't think this is an SD thing. What I have not seen on the right is the fundamental distinction Barnett is making between the need for a Leviathan (air, navy, some army/marines) and Sys Admin force. Except in his own way Newt Gingrich, whom I pointed to positively before. Wes Clark would be the equivalent on the center-left.

I'm more interested in those ideas getting traction not who puts them into place party wise.

The argument for me between different shades of right and left does not acknowledge that whatever theories or policies we come up with don't have the actual force/organization necessary to do the job. I call that post-liberal post-conservative, but that's just my interpretation.

But either way I don't see that as prognostication as much as prediction based on past events, efforts, and trendlines. That doesn't mean everyone who is criticizing Bush's plan and assuming it will fail is not prognosticating in an underhanded manner as you say. Of course some are. But others are not--and if I've made straw men on the right, you have your red herrings on the left.

I cite critics like Zakaria, Rosen, Cole, lots of people who use the war language; I just translate "war" in my head to post-war conflict. I still find many of their criticisms valid, even if they don't always offer alternatives I find appealing.

I don't know that there is an essence to my position just some key points:

--on the macro level:

1.Have to re-structure the military, State Dept., Intelligence, and Foreign Aid to meet the foreign policy/security needs of the 21st century.

2.Deal with Iran, China, and Russia.

3.Live with the fact that there are no rising moderate regimes in the Middle East who will be as we like and can take large scale power. [e.g. Lebanon]. The enemy is Salafi jihadism and disconnectedness not Iran-Syria.

4. The US can not be fighting Salafi jihadism and the Shia simultaneously.

And then Iraq:

1.I don't think the US can continue a policy of being fair (which I think generally we are) in trying to fight both sides and police a Civil War. When we blow up a Shia hold, the Sunnis cheer and vice versa.

2. I think Iraq will go Yugoslavia and split, whether formally or informally on the nation-state level don't know, but it is already happening on the ground. That's why "losing" for me is different I think than what you take for losing. I don't think we lost a war, but a post-war conflict.

In the long term my position is I think more optimistic than yours--more pessimistic in the short term. I don't buy this theory that "defeat" raises the specter of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The bin Laden AQ not the Zarqawi one. I think the policy should be forward looking to examining ways to help refugees, prevent the fighting from spreading to an all out regional war (i.e. don't provoke the Iranians at least the Saudis do it), and helping transfer populations and make political deals.

3. The soldier's comment: we win battles but lose the war (er post-war). You could call that the essence of my Iraq policy.

The new troop surge will I bet bring more stability to certain neighborhoods, but I think many of the fighters will just go somewhere else and places now fairly quiet or going to see upticks in violence.

So win more battles but keep losing the victory. Whatever may be the parliamentary/Green Zone politicking between the Iraqis, the Shia are cleansing Baghdad. The Shia want the Americans out so they can deal with the Sunnis on their terms.

I'm more convinced than ever that Bush is setting markers that he knows Maliki won't meet, so he can oust in him in a parliamentary coup. In other words, I think such a maneuver would continue the PR message as American colonialism there. That the Iraqi elections are only acceptable if they are on our terms--the same principle holds with Hamas and Hezbollah.

4. There is a fundamental incongruity with the President saying the policy of the United States is everywhere and at all times to promote democracy and then not approve of the results and work immediately against the outcomes.

America is not all powerful and you can not make a country or a people do what it doesn't want to. I see that as a blind spot among writers who say this is the last chance for victory and turning the tide--the government would take such momentum to continue its attack against the Sunnis.

Peace bro.


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