Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Denis Prager Article on Iraq

Where he argues that no one could have predicted the savagery (e.g. using children as shields for suicide bombings) in Iraq prior to the invasion of Saddam Hussein. Article here.

Prager writes (my emphasis):

But neither I nor anyone who predicted a civil war had so much as a premonition of this unprecedented mass murder of the men, women and children among one's own people as a military tactic to defeat an external enemy. It is, therefore, unfair to blame the Bush administration for not anticipating such a determined "insurgency." Without the mass murder of fellow Iraqis, there would hardly be any "insurgency." The combination of suicide terrorists and a theology of death has created an unprecedented form of "resistance" to an occupier: "We will murder as many men, women and children as we can until you leave." Nor is this a matter of Sunnis murdering Shiites and vice versa: college students, women shopping at a Baghdad market and hospital workers all belong to both groups. Truck bombs cannot distinguish among tribes or religious affiliations. If America had to fight an insurgency directed solely against us and coalition forces -- even including suicide bombers -- we would surely have succeeded. No one, right, left or center, could imagine a group of people so evil, so devoid of the most elementary and universal concepts of morality, that they would target their own people, especially the most vulnerable, for murder. That is why we have not yet prevailed in Iraq. Even without all the mistakes made by the Bush administration -- and what political or military leadership has not made many errors in prosecuting a war? -- it could not have foreseen this new form of evil we are witnessing in Iraq. That is why we have not won. There are respectable arguments to be made against America's initially going into Iraq. But intellectually honest opponents of the war have to acknowledge that no one could anticipate an "insurgency" that included people leaving children in a car and then blowing them up.
Statements like "no one could imagine a group so evil" immediately make a warning bell go off in my mind. Particularly from a professed religious believer. [edit note: MD pointed out Prager is Jewish; I thought he was Christian. My mistake]. Millions scream out in pain daily, the Earth itself is crucified.

But more practically how do we determine which is more evil---the insurgency described by Prager or the machete-achieved murders of 300,000 in days in Rwanda? Or the 4 million killed in the Congo during the 90s while the world sat around did nothing and no one ever thinks about it.

Even more specifically, the charge that such an insurgency never existed, not true. During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong put grenades in the hands of their own children and sent them up to hug soldiers. Insurgents since time immemorial (read the Bible for example) have been killing in the most brutal of ways their own people deemed "collaborators" with the enemy.

And in Iraq of all places. A country where Prager and others correctly pointed that Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on his own country, sent Shia to kill their Shia cousins in the Iran-Iraq War, kept a police state where he lined up 300 Shia men and boys executed them on the spot and left them in ditches across the country. In this country, with that much violence in the history, and the US was letting off the lid on that---on a country reduced to rubble by 2 wars, sanctions, children and elderly dying--and not expect a rupture of violence.

What could be considered new is the form of radical Salafi jihadism represented by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the use of YouTube executions and so forth. But I imagine Ho Chi Minh would have used such techniques had he had them at his disposal. Or Mao. Or Pol Pot.

As well the one genuinely new thing is the emergence of open-source insurgencies--a point far more important than the brutality. The source of the "defeat" for the American army Prager points to is not the viciousness alone of the fighters but the strategy/techniques employed. (For more information here and especially here).

Consider John Robb:

The paradox is that in order to pacify Iraqis under the current US strategy, they need to be isolated from the surrounding community. However, they cannot be isolated, because the very political goods that the government needs to deliver to gain their loyalty are inextricably tied to this connectivity. In short, while this connectivity brings progress, it will also deliver mayhem. There's no easy way around it.
Prager believes in the myth of the invincibility of the American army. That does not square with the "facts on the ground" so he creates an epicycle to make the facts fix the pre-conceived notion: the utter immorality of the enemy. If it was only a regular insurgency even with suicide bombing the US Army would have won.

He should accept a simpler solution. The US Army won a commanding military victory in the war. The military was asked to do a job it was impossible for it to carry out: i.e. securing the peace with insufficient numbers, incompetent civilian leadership (both in Washington and Iraq). Not to mention that the overall goal of a democratically elected trans-partisan Iraq was not what the Iraqi people wanted. No one no matter how much power can enforce their will.

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At 9:21 PM, Blogger MD said...


Prager is Jewish. And he used to be a liberal. I suggest you get to know more about him, and listen to his radio show. I would be surprised if you don't find more than a little of value in it.

In order for you to disprove his contention, you would have to show evidence that people did predict the kind of violence in Iraq that Prager here discusses.

And where do you get this "he believes in the myth of American Army invincibility" line? Is this made up? It sounds like it is.

You are the one making Prager's argument something other, something more complex, than what it is. For the purposes of changing his topic so you can argue against "it", although "it" is now something other than what Prager argues.

You ought not do so. The point is simple. If people predicted the kind of violence we now see in Iraq, then point to that. If not, Prager's point stands.


At 10:26 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Thanks for pointing out the mistake on his religious background. I've edited the post. He's always referring to Judeo-Christian ethics. I've only ever met Christians who use that phrase--the Jews I know don't approve of it even if they do hold such morals. Hence the bad assumption on my part.

I think he believes in the invincibility of the US Army whether he says so explicitly or not. That's where I got that--I made that assertion based on the line about how if it was only a regular insurgency as it were the US would have won.

I'm saying this insurgency is a regular insurgency. Of what the military historians call the 4th Generational type.

Prager said no one "could have" predicted this level of violence. I was arguing that point, so I don't think it necessary that I find someone who actually did so. He is making (it seems to me) a theoretical argument. Under no circumstances could anyone have predicted beforehand this level of violence.

I admit this is a little bit of 20/20 hindsight, not sure what Karl Popper would think of this line of thought, but this is different than saying I've changed what he said.

He can't prove "no one" could have done such a thing. It doesn't defy the laws of gravity or human rationality. No one could have is different than no one did.

I do disagree that this level of violence has not been seen before. I pointed to Vietnam as an example of insurgents using their own populations against the occupiers. So someone I'm saying could have predicted in theory at least such violence.

Again that doesn't mean it would have automatically occurred in Iraq, but this is not a complete sui generis in my book.

I assume he is being honest in saying he had no premonition of such violence using one's own civilians as covers, etc. But to me that just means he didn't think as hard as he should have about what this invasion could unleash.

He may be right (I don't know) that no one did predict such violence. But again this is pretty hard to argue for/against--why I don't like the "no one" rhetorical device.

There were individuals who predicted massive levels of violence and a civil war, not the least of which was Gulf War 1991 Def. Secretary Richard Cheney.



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