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11/15/2007

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So what you're really saying is that the fact that refugees are returning to their homes, sectarian violence is down, overall deaths (coalition and civilian) are dropping exponentially every month, the tribes are turning against Al-Qaeda, and the Sunni and Shi'a are moving ever closer to living together without attempting to hack each other's heads off is really the Republicans making the best of a bad situation? Do you actually believe the things you write about the war, or do you just copy and paste from Kos.

I guess you're right. We should join in with Harry Reid, admit this war is lost, and bring our troops home before we reach any more of these grim milestones.

Frank, I'm not saying any of what you seem to think I'm saying, so calm down.

I'm saying that every war is different at the end than it appeared it would be at the beginning, that the best outcome changes and that the goal, at any given moment in a war, is to work toward the best outcome available at that moment.

You will note that I've been largely silent on the war except to ask, repeatedly, why a supposedly existential battle is being fought with so little commitment. My ambivalence on the war is a factor of 1) a belief, in retrospect, that the war (which I supported) has not been a cost/benefit success and 2) given that we're involved in the war, our only choice is to get to the best outcome possible.

"Declaring victory and coming home" is not, to my way of thinking, at all a bad strategy, and I don't believe I ever said it was. It seems to me to be largely the only strategy. The "victory" we're moving toward -- and I think we are moving toward victory -- is not the victory we were sold going into the war. That victory is no longer possible, if it ever was.

That doesn't mean we should pull out immediately -- and it's worth mentioning that, no matter what you think, there's not a single mainstream Democrat-in-power saying we should. It also doesn't mean that whatever character the "victory" assumes, we should forget that this war was sold one way and prosecuted another, and that the civilian leadership behind the war did not maintain focus.

I would not, as Harry Reid did, say that the war is lost. I would never say that with troops in the field. Reid's point, I believe, was that the original goals of the war are not achievable. Which brings us to this: What's the best we can do from now forward, given the situation on the ground?

In any war, the definition of victory changes as any war continues. Even in World War II, "unconditional surrender" gave way to more practical concerns, and Japan kept its Emperor.

I have no doubt that the Republicans are just as anxious to get out of the war as Democrats. Would you argue otherwise? I have no doubt that Republicans and Democrats are both looking at largely the same timetable: The exhaustion of the military and the coming Presidential election. The difference is largely one of atmospherics, and both sides are playing to their respective crowds.

By the same token, achieving victory as defined by the dynamics of the moment doesn't mean that the war was wise. That accountability moment has yet to occur, but it will. And I don't see anyone on either side is going to look favorably on those who started and prosecuted this war.

And I don't see anyone on either side is going to look favorably on those who started and prosecuted this war.
I will disagree with you on this point. If, and this is a big if, everything continues to play out as it is and Iraq ends up being a success (however you want to define that), I think history will ultimately favor Bush in this fight. He will catch a lot of flack about his lackluster performance during the beginning of the war, and rightly so. Our rules of engagement were designed to hamstring our troops at every turn, and we needed to have this surge a couple years ago. That not withstanding, after being shellacked in the last election, Bush heard the wakeup call and did everything that everyone had been calling for all along. Rumsfeld out, new leadership on the ground in Iraq, and lots of more boots on the ground. As soon as all that fell in to place, this war began to turn around.

Turning around notwithstanding, Reid, Pelosi and the like have been declaring this a lost cause, and demanding an immediate timetable for withdraw, no matter what. They send up bill after bill with timetables attached, knowing that W is going to veto them, in feeble attempts to placate their Code Pinko / Daily Kos base, but it hasn't worked thus far. Their base is pissed because, as you have pointed out before, they don't have the stones to do what they really want to do, which is cut funding for the war to end it immediately. For all of this, I think they are going to be filed away right next to Chamberlain in WWII.

I am not, however, going to attempt what a lot of conservatives do and draw comparisons between Bush and Churchhill. Because while Bush has been steadfast in his prosecution of the war, he's definitely been lacking in committing the resources we needed in a timely fashion.

Tom, Frank,

Both of you are right, with different perspectives; I think Frank is more correct.

The one thing I'd like to add (if anyone can still stand me ;-) is that from the start, we never fought to win, and therefore it's never been a war. It's only been a military intervention.

Winning a war means destroying the enemy's capacity and will to fight. In the Civil War, the South lost the ability to prosecute the war with any sort of effectiveness, but kept going anyway. They still had the will, and that's why Sherman's march was necessary. That broke their will. In WWII, the Japanese were prepared to fight down to the last man, woman, child, toothless crone, and beriberi-wracked invalid, even though they were, for all intents and purposes, defeated militarily. Dropping the bombs pushed them over the psychological brink to surrender.

At no point in the military intervention in Iraq were the Iraqis ever made to feel they were a defeated people. At no point since the start of hostilities has anyone re-established a monopoly on the use of power. What's worse is that at no point did we ever try to achieve either of these goals, and that's why I don't call it a war.

It took 500,000 troops to dislodge Saddam from tiny Kuwait. It was Rumsfeld's hubris that made us invade Iraq, a California-sized nation, with just 300,000 troops. Couple that with the PC rules of engagement, the blatantly anti-American slant of the media coverage, and the absence of an all-out commitment on the home front, and you have the fiasco we're in now.

I don't think history will be kind to Bush the Lesser, especially not for his Iraq policy.

Unsurprisingly, I'm with Frank on this one.

I think where history will treat Bush poorly is in his reluctance to wage a war sufficient to put down the insurgency before it got started. Even here though, Bush gets some leeway. Any honest view of the run up to war would have to include the caveat that many were very concerned that we not look like occupiers with overwhelming troop levels. In retrospect, this was a silly concern since we ended up looking like occupiers with insufficient commitment to get the job done. The lesson, which we've learned before, is if you're going to war you go to win and worry only about how you manage the victory once it is achieved.

I also think history will criticize Bush on how he defined victory. Even in your post Tom, you are making victory dependent on the actions of Iraqis that is totally out of our control. You're correct to do so, since Bush has never really defined what victory would look like, and to the extent that he did he defined a beautiful world where all Iraqis would hold hands singing We Are the World. This was and unrealistic bane of project managers everywhere called scope creep.

In the end, I think we will see a stable Iraq, with a large U.S. presence and some permanent bases. This is a good outcome as we will be sitting on 25% of the world's known oil reserves, have a military counterweight to Iran, and lessen our dependence on the Saudi relationship. All in all, I think most folks would view this as a good outcome

Part of the problem is that President Bush defined victory from the outset as "no WMD and Saddam gone." Which is fine but it strongly implies leaving behind a mess, which we couldn't do.

Also, I don't think we'll leave behind a stable Iraq. I think Iraq is inherently unstable, that Sunni, Shia and Kurd lack the dedication to a common cause (liberty, for example) that will enable them to get along in the long term.

Tom, you hit the nail on the head in your last comment.

Once upon a time, Americans understood that where the Constitution says "We the People," it means us, not the whole world. We understood that it was established by our government for "ourselves and our Posterity," not for anybody else.

However, the Bush team and the neocons have transmogrified this into a "utopian democratic universalist dogma. In Victor Davis Hanson's words,

"Americans believe that freedom and consensual government--far from being the exclusive domain of the West--are ideals central to the human condition and the shared aspirations of all born into this world."

NO WE DON'T! Until very recently, we have always understood that while freedom and consensual government are "unalienable Rights" that our Creator has endowed us with, they are only ours if we are willing to fight for them. We have also always understood that different people are, well, different. A federal republic with representative democracy is not the ideal form of government for all people, simply because not all people are capable of creating societies capable of maintaining the institutions that are the necessary prerequisites for such a government.

Bush and the neocons persist in the liberal fantasy that everybody is the same and wants the same things. Shouldn't the Moslems' continual preference for sharia law and suicide terrorism tell us that they aren't the same? Shouldn't the ongoing problems with Chinese product safety tell us that they don't share our concern about the common weal? Shouldn't the continued despotic, autocratic, and kleptocratic rule of dictators around the world show us that not everyone wants establish consensual government?

So yes, the three Moslem groups Tom mentioned do not share a common cause: each wants their own version of Islam and nationalism to be supreme. None of these groups are committed to any form of government that we would want to live under. However, if the people so governed are unhappy, it is their prerogative to change or topple their own government, not ours. Ousting Saddam was a good idea. Trying to democratize an Islamic society was not.

Why is this so hard for most people to fathom? Could it be due to the stream of lies and deception flowing from the mouths of our political and ideological leaders?

Squid I almost thought you had it right! Let me try:

Tom, you hit the nail on the head. It is not our responsibility to leave behind a stable Iraq. It is our responsibility to give the Iraqis every possible chance to achieve that goal on their own. If, after 5 years, hundreds of billions of our dollars, over 3,000 of our soldiers lives they are unable to do this, it really isn't our problem. The Kurds prove the case, the Sunnis and Shites are nearing the end of the wait and see period.

We freed these dudes from the hands of a dictator and it is now up to them to prove they don't need one. If they're smart, they'll also realize that a nice U.S. base off in the desert to help keep they're neighbors at bay would be a really good thing. I'm still willing to bet that some form of this status quo is in place within the next 5 years, which is to say I don't think these people are stupid.

But the jury is still out.

OK, Pursuit, your nailstrike was better centered on the head than my own.

I would add just one thing: a US base in the eastern Iraqi desert would not only keep their neighbors at bay, it would be an excellent launching point for our next foray into toppling a government which poses an active threat to us and/or the world economy, and is desirable for that purpose as well.

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