The Great War for Civilisation by Robert Fisk

fisk_great.jpgAs tragically widespread as violence was in the 20th-century, surely no geographic region saw a greater share of warfare and dislocation than the Middle East. From the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, through the turmoil of the dying days of colonial occupation, to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflagration, the three Iraqi wars of the past three decades, and so on, not a year has gone by without some form of revolutionary, civil, or interstate armed conflict in the region. The very fact that I, an American soldier, am writing this book review from a U.S. military base in the country of Kuwait, is a further testament to the continuing volatility of the Birthplace of Three Religions.

No journalist, and probably no person of any occupation, has experienced more of these conflicts in the last thirty years than Robert Fisk. A Beirut-based British reporter employed by The Times as Middle East correspondent from 1976, in its pre-Rupert Murdoch days, and by The Independent since 1989, Fisk has covered nearly every episode of regional strife since the start of the Lebanese Civil War. In 2006, Fisk collects his three decades of reporting into an expansive thousand-page survey of modern conflicts in the Middle East, titled The Great War of Civilisation. Largely a narrative compilation of Fisk's years of reporting, the book also provides some historical background to each of the violent episodes he recounts, tying the chaos in the Middle East to the disastrous post-World War I peace settlement in Paris, which carved up the region into European colonial mandates and set the stage for a century of clashes:

My father was a soldier of the Great War, fighting in the trenches of France because of a shot fired in a city he'd never heard of called Sarajevo. And when he died thirteen years ago at the age of ninety-three, I inherited his campaign medals. One of them depicted a winged victory and on the observe side are engraved the words: "The Great War for Civilisation."

After the allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father's war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just seventeen months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career--in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad--watching the people within those borders burn.

In his lengthy career in the Middle East, Fisk was on-hand for the aforementioned, long-running Lebanese Civil War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas, the Algerian Civil War, the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent failed Shia uprising, the aftermath of 9/11, and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these conflicts, and more, fill one or more chapters in The Great War of Civilisation. Early in the book, Fisk lays out his journalistic philosophy, which frankly it would be nice to see adopted by a few more of the obsequious hacks currently posing as reporters:

I suppose, in the end, we journalists try--or should try--to be the first impartial witnesses to history. If we have any reason for our existence, the least must be our ability to report history as it happens so that no one can say: "We didn't know--no one told us." Amira Hass, the brilliant Israeli journalist on Ha'aretz newspaper whose reports on the occupied Palestinian territories have outshone anything written by non-Israeli reporters, discussed this with me more than two years ago. I was insisting that we had a vocation to write the first pages of history but she interrupted me. "No, Robert, you're wrong," she said. "Our job is to monitor the centres of power." And I think, in the end, that is the best definition of journalism I have heard: to challenge authority--all authority--especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.

The beauty of Fisk's book rests in both the depth and breadth of his personal experience in that territory. Thus the chapters of this book offer a new perspective for most readers on two fronts: first, he goes places most reporters don't, and thus tells stories they can't tell. The easiest, and most famous, examples are his three interviews with Osama Bin Laden from 1993 to 1997. But the pages of The Great War of Civilisation also find him sneaking back into Afghanistan after the Taliban took power, confronting Boeing executives with the fragment of a Hellfire missile the Israelis shot into a Lebanese ambulance, and a particularly harrowing experience riding a Russian Army column making its way toward Jalalabad:

There was little evidence of the ambushed convoy in front save for the feet of a dead man being hurriedly pushed into a Soviet army van near Charikar and a great swath of crimson and pink slush that spread for several yards down one side of the road. The highway grew more icy at sundown, but we drove faster. As we journeyed on into the night, the headlights of our 147 trucks running like diamonds over the snow behind us, I was gently handed a Kalashnikov rifle with a full clip of ammunition. A soldier snapped off the safety catch and told me to watch through the window. I had no desire to hold this gun, even less to shoot at Afghan guerrillas, but if we were attacked again--if the Afghans had come right up to the truck as they had done many times on these convoys--they would assume I was a Russian. They would not ask all members of the National Union of Journalists to stand aside before gunning down the soldiers.

I have never since held a weapon in wartime and I hope I never shall again. I have always cursed the journalists who wear military costumes and don helmets and play soldiers with a gun at their hip, greying over the line between reporter and combatant, making our lives ever more dangerous as armies and militias come to regard us as an extension of their enemies, a potential combatant, a military target. But I had not volunteered to travel with the Soviet army. I was not--as that repulsive expression would have it in later wars--"embedded." I was as much their prisoner as their guest. As the weeks went by, Afghans learned to climb aboard the Soviet convoy lorries after dark and knife their occupants. I knew that my taking a rifle--even though I never used it--would produce a reaction from the great and the good in journalism, and it seemed better to admit the reality than to delete this from the narrative. If I was riding shotgun for the Soviet army, then that was the truth of it.

The second front on which Fisk offers most readers, at least most American readers, a different perspective is his critical take on Israel's behavior vis-a-vis Palestine and Lebanon. In Europe, there is tolerance for a broad diversity of public opinion on the Israel/Palestine situation. In the United States, not so much. It is getting better, but it is still difficult to express much public opposition to actions by the Israeli state without incurring the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby. Whatever the right answer, if there is one, I think there is at least a need for a wider range of discussion on the topic than is currently prevalent in America's public dialogue about Israel. Though there are those out there who would tar Fisk as an anti-Semite because of his views, I think he fits solidly within the range of reasonable opinion. I do not agree with all of it, but that's not the point. He made me think hard about Israel and Palestine in a way that few authors have:

When Palestinians massacre Israelis, we regard them as evil men. When Israelis slaughter Palestinians, America and other Western nations find it expedient to regard these crimes as tragedies, misunderstandings, or the work of individual madmen. Palestinians--in the generic, all-embracing sense of the word--are held to account for these terrible deeds. Israel is not. Thus, over the years, a strange confusion has emerged in the Western response to Israeli misdeeds, a reaction that is ultimately as damaging to Israel as it is to the West itself. When Israeli soldiers or settlers murder Palestinians, they are semantically distanced from their country.

Fisk has been a popular target of conservative journalists and bloggers, particularly after his vocal opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even being the namesake of the dubious verb "fisking," or critiquing a written work one line at a time. If there is one substantive criticism I have of Fisk's book, it is the frequent negative references to the Bush administration and the Iraq War he sprinkles throughout the book. Though I certainly share much of his anger and frustration at the unnecessary bloodshed, some of the attacks seem gratuitously out of place with the surrounding narrative. That said, the book was probably mostly written in 2005, when the U.S. effort in Iraq was at its nadir, and Fisk does have exactly the pedigree to provide the sort of historical perspective that was so disastrously lacking in the White House and Pentagon under Bush and Rumsfeld:

Bush spoke of the tens of thousands of opponents of Saddam Hussein who had been arrested and imprisoned and summarily executed and tortured--"all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state--but there was no mention that these same beatings and burnings and electric shocks and mutilations and rapes were being readily perpetrated when America was on very good terms with Iraq before 1990, when the Pentagon was sending intelligence information to Saddam to help him kill more Iranians. Indeed, one of the most telling aspects of the Bush speech was that all the sins of which he specifically accused the Iraqis--a good many undoubtedly true--began in the crucial year of 1991. There was no reference to Saddam's flouting of UN resolutions when the Americans were helping him. There were a few reminders by Bush of the gas attacks against Iran--without mentioning that this very same Iran was no supposed to be part of the "axis of evil."

The only other aspect of the book that might frustrate those who read it with an open mind is that it feels, at times, episodic. In three consecutive chapters, Fisk moves from the Iran-Iraq War, to his father's participation in World War I, to the Armenian holocaust. There's a natural reason for this: Fisk is a journalist, and each chapter essentially covers the period of time in which Fisk was reporting from that country. And certainly by the end of the 1000+ pages of text, any reader will be tremendously better informed on the modern Middle East than before. But this tome is not intended to be a comprehensive contemporary history of the region, so there are a number of loose ends, which Fisk, probably called away to cover yet another outbreak of violence in the region, was unable to tie up. Nevertheless, an incredible book from a man who has put his body and soul into telling the stories of a land where the reign of violence and suffering has been undeterred by the tolling of a new century.

Standard Operating Procedure by Philip Gourevitch

gourevitch_standard.jpgThe devastation wrought upon America's rule of law by the Bush administration had tremendous consequences for all aspects of government policy. Many of the abuses in the domestic sphere were covered by Eric Lichtblau's book, Bush's Law, which I discussed last week. In that book, Lichtblau mentioned the role played by John Yoo and the Office of the Legal Counsel in crafting absurdly expansive legal opinions regarding the scope of executive power, the most infamous being the "Torture Memo." News of that memo, drafted in August 2002, broke just a few weeks after 60 Minutes ran a story reporting news of alleged detainee abuse at an Iraqi prison just west of Baghdad.

We now know, despite years of attempted obfuscation by the administration, that these two events were inextricably linked. In 2008, Philip Gourevitch published a book about the prison, Standard Operating Procedure, based in part on interviews done for Errol Morris' documentary of the same name. Early in the book, he efficiently laid out the trail of recklessness that connected the torture memo to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, resulting in an utter absence of cognizable constraints on prison authorities:

In the course of a month five different versions of the interrogation rules--the three unsigned drafts, and the two official policies--had been put into circulation at Abu Ghraib. Some of the changes along the way were substantial, but they were never explicitly identified. You had to scrutinize the succeeding documents side by side to detect all their differences, and they all looked enough alike that you could easily assume you'd already read one when you'd actually read the other... [T]he confusion about the law among those who were laying it down for Abu Ghraib suggested that the interrogation rules were not really rules but a kind of guess work, and that they invited exceptions, which certainly fit with the fact that interrogators were being allowed--even encouraged--to do so much that wasn't in their handbook, so much that was even restricted at Gitmo, so much they were not trained to do.

After establishing the responsibility of those who set the stage for the Abu Ghraib disaster, Gourevitch spends most of the book recounting the events as experienced by the soldiers who participated in or witnessed the abuse. Rather than offer a straightforward historical or journalistic treatment, Gourevitch has paralleled Morris' film and drafted what might best be termed a literary documentary. The words of the participants' are given priority, with Gourevitch adding context from the bird's eye view:

Real or unreal, participant or bystander, degrader or degraded, overstimulated or numbed out--[Specialist Sabrina] Harman may have meant no harm, but she seemed to understand that in the malignant circumstances of the MI block that hardly made her benign. Unable or unwilling to reconcile her most disturbing and her most appealing actions and reactions, she sought her equilibrium in equivocation. When she wrote of "both sides of me," she said, "It was military and civilian--the tough side and the non-tough side. You battle out which one is stronger. You're trained to be tough. I was right out of basic, and you're just trained to do what you're told, and to not let things affect you. You're supposed to set all emotions aside, because this is war. I think it's almost impossible. It is emotional."

Gourevitch made an interesting choice not to include any of the photographs in the book, explaining that "much of what matters most about Abu Ghraib was never photographed" and the "photographs have a place in the story, but they are not the story, and in would be untruthful here to submit once again to their frame." Instead, Gourevitch repeatedly pauses the narrative to offer a contextual interpretation of the more infamous photographs, discussing what the photographs do and do not reveal, why they were taken, and the powers and limits of the medium itself. Consider the photos of Private First Class Lynndie England holding a tie-down strap looped around the neck of a prisoner (nicknamed Gus) crawling on his knees:

The composition of the third photograph is the same, but England is in motion, taking a step toward the camera, and making eye contact with it. Gus's face is finally visible, and his eyes are eerie--rolled back in his head, flashing white. On the plastic chair by the cell door, a previously unidentifiable object can be seen to be a megaphone of the sort used for yelling at prisoners to keep them awake. This is the best-lit and the least-staged-looking of the three pictures, and therefore the most disturbing; it creates the impression that England is taking Gus for a stroll on a leash and has just run into [Specialist Megan] Ambuhl on her way. But it was a crop of the second photograph, showing only England and Gus, that was first leaked to the press and seen around the world, becoming almost overnight one of the most recognizable images of our time, and making England an iconic figure of American disgrace: "leash girl."

The MPs assigned to Abu Ghraib come across as hopelessly out of their element, untrained, unprepared, and most perniciously, unled. There is no sign of leadership, that most heralded of Army values, amongst any of the officers or NCOs who had any involvement:

Do these soldiers sound like they're just making excuses? Didn't some of them take liberties, and go to extremes--didn't they treat suggestions as orders, and then interpret them as they pleased--when they might instead have shown compassion? Yes. But what happened to command responsibility? There would have been no liberties to be taken, and no extremes to go to, if anybody had wanted to keep the MPs in check. Nobody wanted to because at Abu Ghraib lawlessness was the law.

Of particular personal note is the absence of leadership by the Judge Advocates who served as legal advisers to the relevant commands, including COL Marc Warren, who was subsequently denied a promotion to Brigadier General when his nomination was blocked in a Senate committee. That was also notable because it was among the few tangible consequences for senior leadership:

[N]o soldier above the rank of sergeant ever served jail time. No civilian interrogators ever faced legal proceedings. Nobody was ever charged with torture, or war crimes, or any violation of the Geneva Conventions. Nobody ever faced charges for keeping prisoners naked or shackled. Nobody ever faced charges for holding prisoners as hostages. Nobody ever faced charges for incarcerating children who were accused of no crime and posed no known security threat.

And so on. If the photographs had not been taken, or then not been turned over, or then not been leaked, we might not even know as much as we do. As much attention as Gourevitch pays to telling the story of the photographs, it is disappointing that he does not follow them much beyond their initial public disclosure. In a short epilogue titled "After," he outlines the criminal investigation and the eventual administrative and criminal actions brought against various participants. But he fails to tell the enduring story of the photographs; how they were published, by whom, how they were understood or misunderstood, and what reactions they generated. A full account of Abu Ghraib must contend with this aftermath.

That said, Standard Operating Procedure is an unusual but worthwhile entry into the literature on the Iraq War and the administration that started it. It brings a great deal of context and consideration to the traumatic events that took place in Abu Ghraib, and may even induce sympathy for some of the soldiers who took part. No such sympathy arises, however, for the administration that put them there, and that consciously created the anything-goes atmosphere that had its starkest realization in Saddam Hussein's favorite prison.

Stampede in Iraq

orrible news from Iraq. At a time when so much devastation is being wrought by human violence and natural disaster, the single most deadly event in Iraq since the invasion is not an act of violence, but of panic:
At least 648 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge Wednesday when panic engulfed a Shiite religious procession amid rumors that a suicide bomber was about to attack, officials said. It appeared to be the single biggest loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Scores jumped or were pushed to their deaths into the Tigris River, while others were crushed in the crowd. Most of the dead were women and children, Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said.

Tensions already had been running high in the procession in Baghdad's heavily Shiite Kazamiyah district because of a mortar attack two hours earlier against the shrine where the marchers were heading. The shrine was about a mile from the bridge.

And the news is getting worse:

The death toll from a stampede on a Baghdad bridge Wednesday was expected to reach 1,000, a general manager at Iraq's Heath Ministry said.

"An hour ago the death toll was 695 killed, but we expect it to hit 1,000," Dr. Jaseb Latif Ali told Reuters.

The power of fear, of human psychology, is a terrible thing to behold. Though the worst suicide attacks take dozens of lives, the fear of a suicide attack takes hundreds, perhaps thousands. What a horrible state of mind to have to live in, that a mere rumor of a suicide bomber is so credibly and immediately felt as to cause a panic, a stampede, and a tragedy. In a very real sense, the victims of this stampede are victims of the insurgency just as clearly as those killed by bullets or shrapnel.

Increasing, Decreasing, Unceasing

There has been quite a proliferation in recent weeks of stories about future troop levels in Iraq. First we heard from General Casey, who suggested that we could have a fairly substantial pullout by next spring. Then we heard from General Schoomaker that the Army was planning for a further four years at current troop levels. Today, however, the director of operations at CENTCOM, General Lute, suggested that this worst-case scenario was unlikely and we are expecting to withdraw significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months.

There is nothing inconsistent with anything of this. Even if the military is planning for a reduction in troop levels next year, it also ought to have a plan in place for more dire situations. I cannot help but wonder, however, if the somewhat confusing way in which this information keeps coming out has something to do with the difficult place the administration is in re: public expectations regarding American troops both at home and in Iraq.

As had been made clear, the President is very concerned that any firm timetable of troop withdrawal will simply give the Iraqi insurgents a timeline for how long they need to hold out before plunging the country into civil war. On the other hand, opinion polls are making equally clear that many/most Americans are not satisfied with an open-ended mission. Thus the delicate balance of conveying our desire to have this successfully wrapped up soon, but making perfectly clear that we have the plans and capacity to stay for years to come.

Soldier Blogging

Looks like the military's new policy on blogging from Iraq has been floating around for a few weeks, though I've just noticed it. It seems pretty easy to comply with, and just the sort of tempered restriction you would expect on soldiers in a combat zone.

Congratulations to Iraq

They may not be perfect, they may not be the answer, but I think the elections in Iraq are a step in the right direction. And when so many Americans can't be bothered to make it to the polling booths despite complete safety, I think the Iraqis who voted today deserve our respect for refusing to bow to the threats directed at them.

I would never presume to make light of the deaths that did take place today, but I think a handful of suicide attacks on the very day of elections might demonstrate the weakness, not the strength of the insurgents. That's not a prediction, nor a robust assessment of the security situation. But in light of the threats that were made, and the concerns voiced both there and here, I think initial reports suggest the day went rather well.

Divisions Within the Insurgency

Very interesting story from the Associated Press this morning on the possibility of growing divisions within the Iraqi insurgency between Iraqis and Bin Laden-inspired foreing militants:

Osama bin Laden has vowed to turn Iraq into the front line of his war against the United States, but Iraqi insurgents seem worried that he's out to hijack their rebellion.

Earlier this month, a posting on Ansar al-Sunnah's Web site told foreign militants to stop coming. The group, which defines itself as both nationalist and Islamic, said it needed money, not more recruits.

"We have concrete information that a sharp division is now broiling between" Iraqis waging a nationalist war and foreign Arabs spurred by militant Islam, said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. "They are more divided than ever."

Al-Rubaie said one reason was the perception among Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whom bin Laden endorsed as his deputy in Iraq, was of little help during the American onslaught on the Iraqi insurgent hotbed of Falluja in November.

A very superficial analysis would suggest that any divisions amongst those we are fighting would be good in the long run, although in the short run it may be a recipe for even more bloodshed in Iraq.

When Your Commanding Officer Finds Your Blog

CBFTW's My War has been the best soldier blog for some time, giving realistic, blunt, and detailed information about his operations in Iraq. Yesterday, his battalion commander found out. But despite CBFTW's fears of "latrine duty, being a Pvt again, loss of pay, or worse," things turned out okay:

He calmly looked up and told me that my shit was really good, and he liked reading my stuff, and that I was a good writer. He even mentioned something about including it in the units history and archives. That didn't relieve me one bit, like I said, it made me more freaked out. I'm waiting for him to say the word: "BUT" followed by my punishment. Then we discussed things, and he pointed things out, and told me things. I agreed with 100% of everything he was saying, and the final conclusion from what he told me was that I could continue writing, but maybe have my Plt Sgt read my stuff before I post. He stressed that he didn't want to censor me and that I still had the freedom of speech thing, as long as I wasn't doing anything that would endanger the mission. I totally 110% agree with him on that one. I thanked him and I told him that I of course would not want to do anything that would endanger anybody here or back home, which is of course true. He suggested that I should look into getting this stuff published and made into a book someday.

CBFTW still isn't sure whether he'll continue, knowing that his chain of command is reading. That's certainly understandable. Even when I had the pseudonym, I knew it was a thin protection, effective really only against Google. As such, I would be loath to ever blog about my work... I think the need for discretion is especially strong in the legal field, and in the military. Of course, soon enough I'll be both. It is wonderful to see that the battalion commander had a lot of respect for CBFTW's speech rights, and for the writing itself. CBFTW has provided an invaluable service, and I hope he finds a way to keep expressing himself.

UPDATE:Citizen Smash passes on some tips:

1. Don't violate OPSEC. Never name your unit, be vague about your location and mission, and don't use anyone's real name.

2. Be careful what you say about your seniors. Don't write anything about a superior in your blog that you wouldn't want that person to read back to you.

That's absolutely essential advice for any military blogger. But notice how well it would apply to a young associate in a law firm as well (minus the military jargon).

The Kennedys and Cuba

One version of the leadup to the war in Iraq paints the President as having been fixated on getting Saddam Hussein out of power from the first day in office. 9/11 simply served as a great excuse to go after Iraq, and only the strenuous objections of more reasonable people convinced the administration that they would at least have to start in Afghanistan. Now who knows how much of this story is true, but even if so it might not be without precedent. From Evan Thomas' biography of RFK:

In later years, veterans of the Kennedy administration would look back at the Kennedys' Cuba obsession, and their own role in abetting it, with wonder and some shame. "We were hysterical about Castro at the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter," said Robert McNamara, the defense secretary who was Robert Kennedy's close friend. The president's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy (less enamored with RFK, whom he described as a "terrier of a man"), suspected that RFK was trying to avenge his brother's humiliation at the Bay of Pigs. "It was almost as simple as, goddammit, we lost the first round, let's win the second," said Bundy....

The "bureaucrats" tried to warn [Robert] Kennedy that the Cuban people were not likely to rise up against Castro... But in a memo on November 30, Lansdale urged Kennedy to ignore the intelligence experts: they were just playing bureaucratic warfare.

Kennedy just pressed on... As recorded by the CIA's new director of operations, Richard Helms, Kennedy announced that overthrowing Castro was "the top priority of the United States Government--all else is secondary-- no time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared."

Of course we all know how it turned out in the end. Castro soon did present a tremendous threat to the United States, housing Soviet missiles within a hundred miles of our shore. And Bobby Kennedy saw that coming, demonstrating more foresight than the professional intelligence experts. Yet for each of his insights came numerous blunders, as Thomas goes on to document. Many even would argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was essentially a paranoid Castro's response to the unrelenting Kennedy/CIA machinations against him, and thus the Kennedys provoked the stand-off rather than merely anticipating it.

Anyhow, I thought it provided an interesting parallel for those who think or suspect that this administration was unreasonably focused on Iraq at the expense of other domestic and foreign affairs.

Bad Planning

With all due respect to General Franks and his tremendous career, some of his explanations and excuses are a bit hard to swallow:

According to the General in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.

"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know (about the insurgency)."

Interviewed Monday in connection with the publication of his memoir, "American Soldier," Franks also said he had expected large numbers of foreign troops to join the U.S. in its Iraq effort. Franks attributes the stresses on American forces in Iraq now, in part, to the failure of that to happen.

Now I think the former is clearly true. Those who planned the war did not understand the Iraqi people or the possibility of the insurgency. But I think General Franks exemplifies understatement later in the piece, when he suggests that there may have been some "willful assumptions with respect to that."

And on the latter point, about international troops, I have to confess I just do not understand. It makes it sound like he was just crossing his fingers, hoping international support would come to save an otherwise undermanned mission. At what point did he "expect" international support? Before we went to the UN? Before we invaded? After major combat operations had ended? His later clarifications don't help either:

As he noted in his book, Franks initially projected that troop strength in Iraq might have to rise to 250,000 for the U.S. to meet all of its objectives, but it never got higher than 150,000.

"The wild card in this was the expectation for much greater international involvement," he said in the interview. "I never cared whether the international community came by way of NATO or the United Nations or directly. ... We started the operation believing that nations would provide us with an awful lot of support."

What? We started operations without any significant military committments from anyone but the British, downright hostility from several other major allies, and international support was just supposed to... happen? This makes it sound like the administration was playing chicken with the international community, assuming that once the war seemed inevitable everyone would rally to our side. Needless to say, that did not and has not happened.

And then there is further evidence of what many have long suspected, that Colin Powell knew better:

According to Franks, Secretary of State Colin Powell contacted him directly, without going through the chain of command, to voice his concern that the U.S. was invading Iraq with a comparatively small, highly-mobile force, instead of the kind of overwhelming massive force such as Powell deployed when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War.

Franks said he considered Powell's views as from a different time and situation.

Except that Powell was right. Unfortunately, Powell has stuck close to the loyal soldier model, and has lent his gravitas and credibility to a foreign policy that has seems to have largely ignored his advice.

Training Units to Iraq?

For those who do not know, some of the best and most important training that Army units undergo is in the wargaming sessions at Fort Irwin and Fort Polk. During these wargames, the opposing force (OpFor) is played by Army units permanently stationed at the training centers and tasked to imitate our enemies, pinpointing and exploiting the weaknesses in our tactics and strategies. Now these units, which have not been in combat since Vietnam or even World War II, may be sent to Iraq:

With nearly every other major combat unit either committed to or just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army is planning to call on two battalions and one engineer company - about 2,500 soldiers - from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which serves as a professional enemy force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The regiment last saw combat in the Vietnam War.

The Army boasts of the "tough and uncompromising standards" of the 11th Armored Cavalry, which it says makes it the premier maneuver unit in the Army and "the yardstick against which the rest of the Army measures itself."

Similarly, the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry, which acts as the Opfor, or opposition force, for light infantry and special operations training at Fort Polk, La., is being called to Iraq, according to two Army officials who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.

The 509th Infantry has not seen combat since World War II, although five members of the unit served as "pathfinders," or advance scouts, during the 1991 Gulf War; two were killed and one was taken prisoner.

Perhaps even more shocking, at least to me, is this news:

The Navy said Tuesday that it is sending a second aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, into the western Pacific, apparently to compensate in part for the planned deployment to Iraq this summer of an Army combat brigade based in South Korea.

You read that right. Apparently we are now deploying to Iraq from South Korea. If there was one place I was certain an Army unit might be safe from deployment to Iraq, it was the Korean peninsula.

Slam Dunk Case

I think this is one of the most interesting claims to come out of Bob Woodward's new book (which, by the way, has one of the ugliest covers I've ever seen):

About two weeks before deciding to invade Iraq, President Bush was told by CIA Director George Tenet there was a "slam dunk case" that dictator Saddam Hussein had unconventional weapons.

And Tenet still has a job because.... maybe the administration thinks it is better to have him on their side than out of a job. We certainly learned a good bit about whistleblower containment in my White Collar Crime class.

At this point I'm perfectly willing to place a good deal of blame on Tenet, and can accept the kind of incompetence that this claim suggests. But I have to confess, I find some of the other claims a bit hard to believe:

Bush also made his decision to go to war without consulting Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell, Woodward's book says.

Powell was not even told until after the Saudi ambassador was allowed to review top-secret war plans in an effort to enlist his country's support for the invasion...

That's just an incredible claim. I mean, I don't even know what to say about it. I just don't believe it, though I'm also not much convinced by Rice's tepid response:

"It's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in a way that Secretary Powell was not."

I don't know if my incredulity is better attributed to proper skepticism of Woodward or to my naivete about how this administration operates at the upper echelons. On the latter, here's another claim that could raise some eyebrows:

The book also reports that in the summer of 2002, $700 million was diverted from a congressional appropriation for the war in Afghanistan to develop a war plan for Iraq.

Woodward suggests the diversion may have been illegal, and that Congress was deliberately kept in the dark about what had been done.

I'd really like to hear the administration's explanation. I'm perfeclty willing to believe there is a good reason, but it might be a bit harder to argue that the war on Iraq was not a distraction if funds were diverted away from Afghanistan as early as the summer of 2002.

All in all, just another series of unflattering claims about the administration's internal workings. Even if one likes the results they are achieving (or seeking to achieve), the quantity of these stories is a bit alarming.

What IS a Quagmire?

It is awfully hard to predict the consequences of any single action we take in Iraq, but the breaking news from CNN makes me think that things are about to hit the fan:

U.S.-led coalition announces an arrest warrant has been issued for anti-American Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

This is just the latest incident in what seems to be a neverending cycle of escalation on the part of both Iraqi insurgents and the US military. It continues to be hard to make sense of the big picture, when most of the daily news is focused on the death toll. More than anything, the big mystery to me is whether there really is this silent majority of Iraqis who favor a peaceful, democratic transition, or whether the Islamic insurgents have greater support amongst the populace than any of us want to believe. I'm not saying we shouldn't be going after this al-Sadr character. But it does raise the possibility that we are dealing not with a few hornets, but with a whole damned nest.

Once such questions become the basis for analyzing our approach to Iraq, I think the comparisons to Vietnam become inescapable. I am much too young to know much about the entry into Vietnam (though I have half a dozen books on my shelf that ought to give me a better understanding), but it seems safe to say that, if nothing else, few people in 1964 thought Vietnam was going to become Vietnam either. As we begin to hear calls (from Republican senators no less) for pushing back the transition to Iraqi sovereignty and/or sending even more troops, I can't deny that red flags start going up in my head.

Blogger Sorrow

You've probably seen the story about the tragic murder of several Americans doing missionary work in Iraq:

On Monday, while scouting sites for a water purification plant, the McDonnalls and three other American missionaries were gunned down by unknown assailants in the northern city of Mosul.

Larry Elliott, 60, and Jean Elliott, 58, were new to Iraq after serving as missionaries for more than 20 years in Honduras. Among other projects, Larry Elliott drilled wells and set up water purification plants for Honduran communities.

Well, it turns out the Elliots' son is a blogger, so you can go to his site and express condolences if you're so inclined. A very sad event, losing good people just trying to bring a bit of hope to a troubled region. Thanks to James Joyner for the heads-up.

Army Out, Marines In

If there is one easy to follow guideline governing American force deployment, it is probably this: the Marines go in first, and then the Army relieves them. That's what the Marines are trained for: rapid deployment and a quick, shocking, overwhelming attack capability. So when we see the Marines coming back in to replace the Army, I think it is safe to say that something is probably wrong:

The I Marine Expeditionary Force is replacing the Army�s 82nd Airborne Division in the country�s contentious An Anbar province. In the western portion, the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 7th Marine Regiment is replacing the Army�s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is returning to its home in Fort Carson, Colo., this month.

The story does not add much information for analysis, but I don't think it takes much speculation to posit that the return of Marines likely means a strategy shifting back towards the Marines' great strength: violence of action. Though capable of a wide range of missions, the one in which the Marines really outshine the Army is in hunting and killing. That these units are being brought back to the most volatile areas is surely no coincidence.

Will I Go to Iraq?

iraq1.gifHere's the scenario: I manage to pass my 3L classes and graduate law school in May 2005. I take the Virginia bar exam in July, and with luck, receive a passing score when they are released in November. I get slotted for a JAG School Basic Course starting in January 2006, learn everything I need to know to be a brilliantly successful military lawyer, and graduate in late March/early April. Could I then be deployed to Iraq? Apparently I'll be cutting it close:

American officials say U.S. forces will be needed in Iraq long after a sovereign government is restored this summer, but they have yet to work out the terms of a continued presence.

The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has also urged Italy and other countries to keep their troops in the country at least until December 2005, an Italian newspaper reported on Friday.

"It is necessary that coalition troops, including Italians, remain in Iraq at least until December 2005," Bremer told the Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview.

Obviously it is almost impossible to predict what the future holds for our involvement in Iraq. As the story notes, some argue that any freely elected Iraqi government would likely be quite hostile to our continued presence, and it would be difficult to stay under such conditions:

Anthony Cordesman, a close observer of the Iraq situation as a strategist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that if political control was turned over on July 1 to an Iraqi body that is not elected, it likely would align itself with U.S. objectives and therefore welcome a continued U.S. military presence. But once elections were held, the U.S. role would be in doubt, he said.

If the new Iraqi government decided it wanted American forces to leave, "We would certainly be obligated to leave, under international law," Cordesman said.

And yet there is not even a plan for how such elections would take place. The "caucus plan" has been canceled, and the possibility of any elections before the planned June 30 transition are in serious doubt:

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the Bush administration was prepared to drop the caucus plan and hand over power to an expanded Governing Council until elections can be held.

Even should a more friendly government arise, there are unknowns on the homefront as well. We might have a change in the Oval Office, or a new outlook from the current administration once a second term has been secured. Public opinion is increasingly unhappy with the status quo. Something is going to have to give. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll be in Iraq when it does.

Military Benefits of Iraq

I've spent plenty of time worrying about the potential negative consequences the war on Iraq may be having on our military. It is thus particularly nice to read an article discussing the ways the Army has benefitted from the experience:

"The majority of the Army will have a combat patch for the first time since Vietnam," says General Blount, now in charge of Army readiness, at his Pentagon office. "We were already the best army in the world. Now we're the most experienced."

Over the next four months, he notes, eight of 10 active duty Army divisions - with 220,000 troops will be rotating in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade, for example, heads to Iraq this month with combat veterans from Afghanistan reportedly making up 75 percent of its 2,000 paratroopers and most of its key commanders.

The story also notes that recruitment and retention levels are high (click here for details on a new, and apparently successful retention program). While the danger of being stretched too thin remains, the Army is aware of this and is responding. In this sense, the war is a catalyst for change, particularly in unit manning and the ongoing development of expeditionary brigades that can be more self-sufficient than our current organization allows. As has always been true, if the Army can meet the challenges that our new committments and concerns have placed on it, it will end up better off as a result. The Army can be the slowest moving bureaucracy in the world, but when bullets are flying and soldiers are dying, problems can get fixed in a hurry.

This is today's Traffic Jam contribution.

Leftist Lithmus Test

Daniel Davies has thrown down the gauntlet:

I hereby question the �left� credentials, and indeed the commitment to democracy, of anyone who takes the government side against Katharine Gun... If you think that Ms Gun deserves to go to jail, then all I can say, mes amis is examine your conscience.

Well then, count me out. Davies account of the incident seems to rest entirely on this column by Bob Herbert:

Ms. Gun, 29, was working at Britain's top-secret Government Communications Headquarters last year when she learned of an American plan to spy on at least a half-dozen U.N. delegations as part of the U.S. effort to win Security Council support for an invasion of Iraq.

Ms. Gun felt passionately that an invasion of Iraq was wrong � morally wrong and illegal. In a move that deeply embarrassed the American and British governments, the memo was leaked to The London Observer.

So an intelligence agent leaked classified information that embarrassed her country/employer and its ally. She violated a very straight-forward law that protects the national security of her country. And this is someone that the "left" ought to make a martyr? I don't buy it. And I don't buy Herbert's vague and unworkable claim that she is not a "big-time criminal." I didn't know we were in the business of punishing only "big-time criminals." For good measure, Herbert throws in this red herring:

There is no equivalent in Britain to America's First Amendment protections. Individuals like Ms. Gun are at the mercy of the Official Secrets Act, which can result in severe � in some cases, draconian � penalties for the unauthorized disclosure of information by intelligence or security agency employees.

While Herbert is quite right that the First Amendment provides much broader speech protections in America than anything in Britain, I fail to see how it would apply in this case. If it were a crime in this country for an intelligence agent to leak classified information, I highly doubt the First Amendment would save the agent from being fired or prosecuted.

Nor should it. While thirty years of hindsight makes Daniel Ellsberg look like a saint for releasing the Pentagon Papers, history has not been so kind to the various spies for the Soviet Union, or for Israel (Jonathan Pollard thought he was doing the right thing, didn't he?). The same would be true if someone like Ms. Gun had released wartime preparations during World War II. We would look back and be glad she was punished for threatening the security of her country. It is not her right to decide if and when to violate the laws of her country and then expect not to bear the consequences of her actions. If she acted on principle, that's fine. Let that be her solace if and when she pays the price for breaking the law.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence agrees, as does Jacob Levy, and I've made this my Beltway Traffic Jam contribution.

What to Do With Saddam?

I am absolutely delighted with this morning's news. Any day a man as wicked as Hussein is brought to justice is a good day. One of the big questions remaining to be answered is what form of justice Hussein will face. Here's a story detailing the potential for an Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal, likely modeled after those we've seen in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. My girlfriend suggests a pit filled with starving wolves, and I have trouble arguing with that.

Sticking it to Friedman (and all the rest)

Attacking Thomas Friedman hardly seems worth the time it takes, but at least when Brian Leiter does it, he does it right:

Thomas Friedman of the NY Times remains as juvenile as he was the last time I bothered to lambast him (with help from the lovely Karl Kraus: "No ideas and the ability to express them: that's a journalist.").

The problem this time? Friedman seems to think the Saudis care more about nurturing democracy in Iraq than do the Germans or French. Uh huh. I mean DAMN that's a stupid thing to say.

I don't want to be flippant, but it seems to me that one of the more obvious local costs of this Iraq episode has been the tremendous plummet we've seen in the quality of writing and commentary almost across the board. I'm talking about newspapers, political magazines, and especially blogs. Instapundit is only the most obvious example... there are plenty of others (on both sides) who have become increasingly unreadable, and it's been a really sad development. I'm not even talking about civility. I'm talking about intelligence. That's a big reason you won't get much war/peace-blogging from me. I know better than to think I've got an intelligent contribution to make. It'd be nice if Friedman et al had the same realization.

UPDATE: I'd like exhibit A in this trial on the stupidity of current Iraq dialogue to be the constant analogies between WWII occupations and present-day Iraq ("Oh look at all the resistance that was put up," "Look at how multilateral it was back then, and don't forget the Marshall Plan," "Back then it took 5 years, have some patience"; see this post and its comments for examples). Let me just lay out a few mild, uncontroversial statistics and see how they compare...

WWII: War started by German and Japanese aggression, US resists entrance until territory is attacked, 6 years of total warfare, 3 years of bombing German cities, 1 year of bombing Japanese cities (including 2 nuclear detonations), 7 million dead Germans, 2 million dead Japanese, total defeat and unconditional surrender of the German and Japanese governments.

Iraq: War started by US under preemption doctrine, 4 weeks of warfare, 4 weeks of bombing, under 10,000 Iraqi deaths, Iraqi military seems to disappear into thin air, Iraqi leaders go into hiding.

That ought to be enough. The statistics speaking for themselves, I hereby declare a moratorium on any further analogies between the occupations of Japan and Germany and the occupation of Iraq, either in support of or criticism of our current operations. The differences in the situations are so vast that any such analogy is henceforth considered per se inapt.

No, the Other William Wallace

Remember Lt. Gen. William Wallace? He's the one who said that the Iraqi forces met early in the war were "not the enemy we war-gamed against." Well Army Times reports that he's now set to command the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth:

One of the Combined Arms Center's major responsibilities is to write war-fighting doctrine for divisions and corps, a mission that Wallace appears well-groomed to lead.

The CAC is the home of the Command and General Staff College and other important schools and research facilities, and ought to provide a good opportunity for Wallace to influence future leaders.

The Opportunity of Reconstruction

The latest post from Matthew Yglesias has me thinking about rebuilding Iraq. In particular, he cites a TNR blog post noting that:

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week found only 37 percent support for only a three-year effort. Does anyone expect the Bush administration, as its reelection campaign heats up, to rally public support to a politically difficult but strategically vital cause?

Here's the speech I dream of hearing:

My fellow Americans, the world continues to be a troubled place, and America must once again rise to the tasks that lay before it. The eyes of the world are upon us, trying to determine from our actions what it is that America now stands for. Those with aspirations of liberty and prosperity look to see if America will help lead them toward their noble goals. Those who fear progress hope in the darkness of their hearts that America will turn inward and abdicate its obligations. We will do no such thing.

Like generations of Americans before us, we will take responsibility for helping a defeated foe rise and rebuild. After the Second World War, many years of dedicated work and capital went to set the nations of Germany and Japan on a path of prosperity which they still enjoy today. As a result, we can count them among our strongest allies and can admire the strength of their democratic systems, which we helped to create. We will do the same for the people of Iraq, helping them rebuild their nation in a land that has seen millennia of human progress. We will give them the necessary manpower, training, and capital. More importantly, we will give them our patience and our committment. We will not let the violence and hatred of a few keep our helping hand from reaching the many. We will not be abandon the people of Iraq. They are our brothers and sisters, and we will help them rebuild their home.

On the Ground

Phil Carter has a new article in the Washington Monthly on the need for more troops to rebuild Iraq:

Not only did Wolfowitz and Shinseki publicly disagree over how many troops would be needed to win the war in Iraq, they also disagreed on how many troops would be needed to win the peace. Shinseki testified to Congress that we would need "several hundred thousand" and Wolfowitz, very publicly, argued that the situation called for far fewer. What's become clear in the aftermath is that Wolfowitz simply didn't grasp, as Shinseki (who's commanded Army units in peacekeeping operations) clearly did, just what this kind of mammoth peacekeeping and nation-building operation would entail.

He also points to a key text that all those interested in military issues must read:

On the shelf of nearly every Army officer, you'll find a book by retired Col. T.R. Fehrenbach on the Korean conflict titled This Kind of War. At the end of World War II, confronted by the military revolution brought on by the atomic bomb, America cut its military from a wartime high of 16 million down to a few hundred thousand. Bombs and airplanes--not soldiers--would now protect America's shores and cities. After fighting as a grunt in Korea, Fehrenbach thought otherwise. Transformation was great for the Air Force and Navy, but for the Army and Marine Corps, the essential nature of warfare remained unchanged.

"You may fly over a land forever; you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life," wrote Fehrenbach. "But if you desire to defend it, protect it, and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud." It's time Don Rumsfeld brushed up on his Fehrenbach. The book is on Gen. Shinseki's official reading list for the Army, so it's a good bet that one of his generals has a copy he can borrow.

Great book.

Berlin Wall in Baghdad?

Phil Carter has some critical comments on Wolfowitz's comparison of the toppling of the Hussein statute to the Berlin Wall. Phil points out some of the important distinctions: 1) there were a lot more people in Berlin, 2) no looting in Berlin, 3) no war in Berlin.

I think he misses the most important difference: the Berlin Wall was torn down by Germans. The Hussein statute was torn down by Americans, and this may have some interesting symbolism of its own:

So, what are we to make of this fitful flailing in downtown Baghdad? The crowd is still milling around Firdos Square, but they have stopped trying to topple Saddam's monument. And now, here comes the American tank. The Iraqis are now tying a steel chain, no doubt U.S.-supplied, to the statue, and the Abrams M1 will serve as the toppler. Oh, no; it's getting worse. Marines are getting up on the statue to pull it down themselves. One of them has draped an American flag over Saddam's head. What a moron! The very picture of neo-colonialism, which will make front pages all over the Arab world. Now he's taking off the American flag. No doubt, someone from Centcom, watching CNN, phoned the officer on the scene to chew him out and remind him of the orders against such displays.

A big sigh. Is this scene a sad symbol of the Iraqi people's helplessness, after 30 years of brutal dictatorship, to master their own fate? Is this an equally sad symbol of America's inability to liberate without conquering? Will the Iraqis need outside forces to oust not merely Saddam but the figments of his rule? Will the Americans help them without too strong a stench of arrogance?

I think Fred Kaplan goes too far (likely because I'm more hawkish than he), but he's on to something. The fact that Iraqis couldn't even pull down the statue themselves (and Americans had to come along and do it) certainly puts this a hell of a long way from the Berlin Wall.

Arab/Muslim Humiliation

I don't think this sentiment should be overlooked:

"For three weeks, Saddam gave Arabs their pride as he faced down the invaders," said Mahmoud Ahmed Youssef, 26, a software designer, as he sipped a latte in Amman's Purple Fig restaurant.

"It's hard to explain why I admire him. I know that he was a dictator, a tyrant. But his defeat, I believe, leaves all Arabs weaker. The fall of Baghdad is a terrible humiliation."

This is not entirely distinct from the point I was making earlier about the need for Iraqis to have their own founding myth. We want these people to be proud of themselves and their nations, but we also want them to believe in liberalism and democracy. Doing the latter without the former only dooms the latter to failure.


Matthew Yglesias sheds a little light on a question my discussion group was pondering yesterday, that of the analogy to rebuilding Japan:

Having had the pleasure of living under the rule of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, the other countries of East Asia were totally uninterested (and remain uninterested today) in encouraging Japanese national. Everyone, therefore, was pretty happy to give the Americans a free hand in Japan.

So far, we've benefitted from a roughly similar dynamic. The combination of Saddam's brutality and his habitual destabilizing of the region made people (and even more so, governments) in the Middle East extremely reluctant to engage in any sort of active opposition to America's war. Now that Saddam's gone, however, we will need to contend with various other pernicious ideologies kicking around the region.

Here's my concern: I look around at the thriving democracies (and even the struggling ones), and it seems that almost all (Japan is the most prominent exception) of the progress takes place through internal changes, sometimes gradual and sometimes revolutionary. What they all seem to share is a strong native component to the movement. Think of how important the history and myth of founding fathers and revolutionary leaders is to most countries today.

What I fear is that if Iraqis look upon the history of their government institutions, and find that their liberator is General Franks, and founding 'mother' is Barbara Bodine, what are they supposed to make of that? This is meant as no disrespect to those Americans, and I'm trying to separate this out from the dangers of anti-Americanism. Instead, this is a query of how successful any democratic nation-founding can be so long as the architects and functionaries are foreigners.

History and Ignorance

Yesterday a small group of UVA Law students, including myself, met to share our thoughts on the war in Iraq and the Middle East generally. It was quite an experienced group: one did anti-terrorism work with the Navy, a Marine who deployed to assist the USS Cole after it was attacked, a former director of a non-profit in Syria who later worked for UNHCR there, one who was born and raised in Turkey, a couple who worked in Washington (one for the Center for Middle East Peace, one doing Senate committee work), and myself (uh.. I studied government in college).

It was thus a very well-informed group and gave us all the opportunity to discuss the issues from a certain plateau of knowledge (none of us think Saddam Hussein responsible for 9/11). However, when the gentleman from Turkey began discussing the history of his country, the role of Islam, and the differences between an Islamic democracy and a Muslim democracy (he thinks the former impossible), I began to realize just how ignorant I really am about that region and its history.

In particular, I realized that my ignorance about the difference between, say, Wahhabis and Alawites, compromises the intelligence of any opinion I can offer on the region's future.

I think this summer my reading list will have to include at least a couple texts on the region's history. I have a lot of work to do.

Baghdad Surrealism

This headline on the CNN home page boggles my mind:

At least 6 killed in battle for Baghdad

Is there anyone, I mean anyone, who would have put the number of casualties at 6?!? I know it's not over (could be terribly far from over if Saddam has something up his sleeve), but to even see a headline like this gives me pause.

U.N. Duties

A Small Victory has some "forward looking insight":

Suggested roles for the U.N.:

Serving meals and drinks to those rebuilding Iraq

Washing the Humvees

Working the PX

Check out the comments on her site for more.


I did a quick little experiment using the Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem to calculate citations and links to mainstream new sources. The results:

Washington Post - 2216

New York Times - 2174

Yahoo! News - 1305

CNN - 1146

BBC News - 844

Guardian - 668

Salon - 447 ( excluded)

Fox News - 340

Reuters - 317

The New Republic - 287 (& included)

UPI - 244

Washington Times - 214

The Nation - 211

Christan Science Monitor - 172

Not calculated:

MSNBC (and Slate) - disabled by ecosystem; likely to avoid attempts to add Alterman's blog for technical reasons

National Review - couldn't exclude The Corner

Protectionism.. sort of

I'm very glad that PFC Lynch is alive and safe. But I can't stand this:

"God watched over Jessica and her family. All West Virginians are rejoicing," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

If God watched over PFC Lynch (not Jessica, she's a soldier) and protected her, He also let 11 other Americans die at her side. I don't understand why God gets credit for the good thing but not blame for the bad thing that happens simultaneously.

There was a story a few months/years ago where a little boy was protected from a bullet by a Bible he was holding after leaving church. "God protected him," everyone said. Well his brother was standing right next to him, was shot, and died. I guess God didn't like him as much, right?

(Terrible sidenote that I almost didn't write: has anyone else worried about why it was that PFC Lynch was apparently the only one left alive? I'm worried it might be because she is an attractive young woman and the Iraqis wanted her alive. I hope she really is okay.)

UPDATE: PG's comment makes the good point that it's probably un-PC to talk about my sidenote... I wonder if there is a way to talk about it without implying that she should be treated differently by the media or by the Army. Am I running into a wall where there are real differences between men and women and I (and other feminists) want to be pretend there aren't? Or am I just falling into classic stereotypes by assuming that there might be a gender-based explanation for PFC Lynch's survival? I'm troubled.

Rand on Balkanization

Arthur Silber brings us selections from Ayn Rand's work on Balkanization as an illustration of the problems we face in the Middle East. I've never known quite what to make of Rand, but it's certainly food for thought:

Capitalism has been called nationalistic--yet it is the only system that banished ethnicity, and made it possible, in the United States, for men of various, formerly antagonistic nationalities to live together in peace.

What worries me about this solution is what kind of capitalism we plan for Iraq. Certainly Rand's theory is subject to the obvious criticism that America presently has nothing close to that ideal capitalism (even assuming capitalism is the ideal). Previous posts by myself and many others regarding the planned rebuilding of Iraq (by American companies only) does not bode well for the idea of letting Iraqis build their own capitalist structures, let alone the Middle East as a whole. Capitalism is one thing, colonialism another.

The Truth At Last?

My girlfriend pointed out that Mickey Kaus has an interesting take on why Rumsfeld wanted 'war on the cheap':

If "regime change" in Iraq were the only goal, there'd be no reason not to provide plenty of soldiers to do the job, with an ample margin of safety. But regime change in Iraq isn't the only goal. Rather, neocons in the Bush administration see the Iraq campaign as the opening move in a series of potential power plays that might involve at least credibly threatening military action against Syria, North Korea, Iran, and maybe even Saudi Arabia. The first two threats have already, in fact, been issued (and I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to want to be able to intimidate some of these countries -- e.g. North Korea -- even while fighting an Iraq-sized war).

If we can take Iraq only with a huge, heavy force --or if the Powell Doctrine that we should use overwhelming force even if we don't need it still applies -- well, we can't very credibly claim that we can take on (or take over) all these other countries at the same time, or even in rapid succession, can we? But if we can topple a heavily-defended government in Iraq with a light, quick non-Powellesque force -- using but a small portion of our strength -- then taking on multiple targets suddenly becomes a real possibility, and a real threat to regimes in Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang.

Frightening if true.

Context and Breadth

Dean Esmay points to war coverage as a troubling example of how narrow the mainstream media has become:

In listening to much of the recent war coverage, you'd think that we're experiencing little but a series of unmitigated disasters, shocking betrayals by the administration, horrifying surprises, and stunning setbacks in the slow-grinding quagmire that is the war in Iraq. Not all reporting has been like that, but it's often rather disorienting: I'll go from listening to NPR, wondering how we'll ever recover from this horrible mess we've gotten into, then head over to The Command Post and I'll see information from all sides and perspectives, from around the world, and I'll realize: hey, things aren't that bad at all. In fact, they're pretty good, if you get past the bug-eyed coverage from so much of the press.

I've been unable to kick a feeling that this war has exposed the incredibly weak and numb status of journalism in America, and I find myself instinctually pointing to the media conglomerate as a major source of this homogenous drivel.


Tim Blair asks this about the death of 7 Iraqis when their van was fired upon at a checkpoint:

Who will be the first journalist to refer to this tragedy as "Iraq's My Lai"?

Well actually, Tim, I think it's you. ("Tim Blair, journalist, commentator, and oppressor")

Gay Soldiers in Iraq

Asparagirl has an interesting post (a few days old, sorry) analyzing the role of gay soldiers in the current conflict and what that might tell us about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":

That the military's gay discharge rate has dropped by a significant amount just when the need for unit cohesion is the strongest should tell you something about the validity of that argument.

A counter-argument to the policy could also be made that it puts undue stress on gay US soldiers, above and beyond what even your average G.I. worried about being shipped off to war would have to deal with. They have to live with the constant threat of discovery and expulsion from the services, not to mention having to hide their biggest base of support: their loved ones.

Idealizing the U.N.

A tragic reminder for those who've come to idealize the U.N. umbrella as a contrast to American unilateralism:

Thousands of people have attended a mass funeral in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica for the victims of one of Europe's worst massacres.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the UN's failure to prevent the atrocity would "haunt our history forever."

Contingency Planning

There have been a thousand articles and blog posts analyzing what the United States should or should not have known about potential Iraqi resistance, about Rumsfeld's overruling of military commanders, and other various claims of shortsightedness and miscalculation.

Here's my question: even if America had good reason to be confident of a small and expedient war, where was the contingency planning? It's one thing to have a plan that includes Shiite uprisings in the south. It's another to ignore the possibility that they won't.

The claim has been made that the Iraqis are not acting as American wargaming suggested they would. Well how many wargames did we run? The point of these simulations is not just to determine the most likely enemy action, but to test our ability to react to unlikely actions. It is to avoid surprises and ensure we have a plan in place in the worst case scenario, not just the best.

Crossing the Line

I think Peter Arnett crossed the line and am glad to see his actions met with proper consequences... it'll be interesting to see where he goes next (though remembering the Marv Albert arc leads me to suspect he'll be back at NBC soon enough):

NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic on Monday said they had terminated their relationship with Peter Arnett after the journalist told state-run Iraqi TV that the U.S.-led coalition's initial war plan had failed and that reports from Baghdad about civilian casualties had helped antiwar protesters undermine the Bush administration's strategy.

Pundits can grant interviews and voice personal opinions (though doing so for Iraqi TV is questonable to me). Reporters should not. That just seems so obvious, but perhaps the line between punditry and reporting has become too blurred.


CalPundit has this analysis of American narrowness on the idea of Iraqi liberation:

Americans in general - and pro-war conservatives especially - are simply unable to understand that the entire world doesn't automatically accept that our "motives were right" or that our intentions have always been benign. And there's no reason they should. They should judge us based on our actions, just as we would judge them. It's this kind of blindness that leads to overoptimistic ideas about Iraqis greeting us as liberators simply because they don't like Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, they don't like us either. Why is it so hard for people to understand that no one likes to have their country taken over by an invading army, no matter how righteous that invading army thinks its cause is?

Agreed. A lot of it is probably historical ignorance as well. I'm sure there are plenty of Americans (probably many of those who think Saddam is responsible for 9/11) who can't really differentiate between the liberation of France and the 'liberation' of Iraq. Saddam may be a dictator, but he's their dictator.

Another Sad Story

Another clear instance where situational awareness and training could have saved lives:

Two Marines drowned in southern Iraq after attempting to cross a canal without a safety line while wearing heavy gear and rifles.

It is always a shame to lose troops in avoidable accidents, but even moreso when these brave men are putting themselves at risk of enemy attack. Dying in a mishap like this does not befit the training these men and their commander should have.

The Possibility of Inspiration

An inspiring speech by a British commander on the eve of battle. If only I could feel confident that this is truly the intent and aim of this conflict:

We go to liberate, not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.

There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others, I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle, remember to be magnanimous in victory.

Coping With War

I can't even imagine how people made it through any of our country's more lengthy wars (WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea)... every day I'm on edge, the news constantly frustrates me, I can't concentrate on the things that are supposed to be important.

How did people do it? Did they just get used to it? Did they have better coping mechanisms?

Peer Education

Matthew Yglesias makes an excellent point:

[I]t seems to me that except for a handful of bloggers and newspaper columnists, everyone feels about the same way about this war - uneasy, but hopeful that something good may come of it. Indeed, this feeling is, in my experience, so universal that I sort of wonder why everyone feels surrounded by extremists. My advice: Read less and talk to your friends more.

Agreed. A good friend and fellow 1L who I knew at Harvard is trying to get together a small, private discussion group of law students who have experience with the military or the Middle East, but have differing perspectives on the conflict. It's a great idea and I highly recommend it to everyone. Find a few people whom you respect, make sure there is some diversity of opinion, and educate each other.

Stupid Stupid Stupid

This has to be the worst naming scheme since the FBI's Carnivore. The names of our temporary fueling facilities in Iraq:

Camp Shell and Camp Exxon.

Stupid stupid stupid.

When Are Facts Facts?

The Guardian has a feature keeping track of "claims and counter claims made during the media war in Iraq." Well worth reading.

Ridiculous Headline has this headline blaring at 11:25pm EST:

BREAKING NEWS - Officials: Chemical Attack Feared Near Baghdad

Technically this is correct. There is fear that the Iraqis might use chemical weapons. But that headline can be read much more severely and is thus terribly misleading. I clicked on the story expecting to hear that our troops have been gassed. Thankfully that has not occurred, but the headline is still unnecessarily misleading and provocative.

UPDATE: It's still there an hour later. Are they trying to give people heart attacks?

Anatomy of an Ambush

Phil Carter has a stellar and sobering explanation of how the American POWs were captured and what it reveals about our weaknesses:

Frankly, most logistics units have very poor training when it comes to basic soldiering skills and force-protection skills. My platoon tried and tried to train logistics units on the fundamentals of convoy defense, base defense, route reconnaissance, etc. For every soldier we trained, there were three more who didn not attend the training because they were busy doing "real world" maintenance. Bottom line: combat training gets neglected in support units because they're too busy turning wrenches to practice fieldcraft. That may have cost these soldiers their lives.

Agreed. We need to learn this lesson, and fast.

More U.N. Irrelevance

William Saletan has this surreal image:

The [UN Security] council was meeting to discuss the latest update from weapons inspector Hans Blix. Blix was downcast because, having been forced to leave Iraq a few days ago so that the United States could start bombing it, his inspection report now seems a bit pointless. Not so, said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. They praised Blix's work and assured him that the war was only an unpleasant interlude in the inspection process.

Yet I've still not heard anything from the French or Germans on post-war administration of Iraq, other than to reject all proposals thus far put forth by the coalition. That's an effective way of guaranteeing the continued irrelevance of the UN and the French/German/Russian axis.

Female POW

The Moonie Times puts the capture of a female POW in perspective with the discarding of the Risk Rule, which prevented women from serving in particularly dangerous or vulnerable positions during combat. In particular, the thought seems to be that the risk of sexual assault upon female POWs might give weight to the arguments against allowing women into combat.

What I'm Reading

My current sources for following the war:

The Agonist
The Command Post
Team Stryker

The Truth about Shock and Awe II

I'm getting a lot of hits for people searching for my original post on the shock and awe bombing campaign from last week. Here it is.

First Casualties

MSNBC is reporting on the identity of the first combat casualty:

One of the slain was from the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Col. Neal Peckham, a British military spokesman, said Friday.

I have to admit a bit of shock at the death of an O-5 in combat, particularly as a lone casualty. I have tremendous respect for leading from the front, as this Marine almost certainly was. Still, it seems strange that such a high-ranking officer was the only loss in the battle. Hopefully that casualties will stay low as long as possible.

UPDATE: Wow, looks like I really misread the sentence. Apparently LTC Peckham IS the military spokesman.

That makes much more sense, though the death is no less saddening.

Streaming Video

Also, if you have the bandwidth I recommend the live feed from the BBC .


I have neither the time nor resourcefulness to be a real-time warblogger, so I recommend visiting The Agonist for up to the minute updates.

World Leader Reaction

WP has this round-up of early world leaders' reactions, and includes an interesting tid-bit:

China had no immediate comment on the start of the U.S. war on Iraq, but state television broadcast President George W. Bush's address live in a rare move.

China Central Television broadcast the address with simultaneous translation in Chinese.

I wonder how it played to that audience.

The Agonist

The Agonist has good up-to-the-minute updates.

If Now Is the Time

To our troops: Godspeed.

Second Thoughts

IHT reports:

In the end, beyond the maneuvering, the rhetoric, the professed convictions, there are questions now in Paris and Berlin about whether their opposition to an American-led war on Iraq has gotten a bit out of hand.

Worthy article. Good to see the foreign press posing tough questions to their leaders. I'd like to have seen the same from ours.

British Pragmatism

UPI (quick becoming my news service of choice) has a good analysis of Blair's victory in Parliament last night. Particularly interesting is the role that France may be playing in swinging British opinion closer to Blair:

[B]oth public and politicians have been impressed by Blair's unwavering dedication to the "rightness" of his cause, and by France's perceived determination to scupper Blair's huge efforts to get a second U.N. resolution. Significantly, 68 percent of the British public in the Telegraph's poll now says President Jacques Chirac was wrong to say France would veto the second U.N. resolution, with only 21 percent saying he was right.

Calm Before the Storm

I've been searching the blogosphere for something to comment on, but the impending war casts a dark shadow over all other topics of thought. It seems like all we can do is wait.


CNN reports:

Despite French opposition to a war in Iraq, the French military could assist any U.S.-led coalition should Iraq use biological and chemical weapons against coalition forces, the French ambassador to the United States said Tuesday.

"If Saddam Hussein were to use chemical and biological weapons, this would change the situation completely and immediately for the French government," Jean-David Levitte said.

We'll remember he said that.

The Journey So Far

Jason Rylander has an excellent post on the consequences of America's diplomatic failures:

Tonight President Bush issues his ultimatum, but it comes not as we might have expected from a position of strength. Rather it seems the last desperate measure of a nation that has one by one eliminated its options. We act not "at a time of our choosing," as Bush eloquently put it in September 2001, but because having failed at all diplomatic efforts, having alienated potential partners, we either invade or lose face. Though our military may be strong, our standing in the world is weaker today than at any time in recent memory. That is inexcusable and unacceptable.

Good Round-Up

Matthew Yglesias has a good round-up on today's preparations for war.

Check out his first update in particular, a shot at Glenn Reynolds (who I actually like a lot more than Matthew seems to). No one in the blogosphere should ever be so self-righteous as to forget that we are a bunch of Internet geeks and news junkies with sufficient free time and bandwidth to experience war purely through hyperlinks and blockquotes.

Check Out the Winds of War

Winds of Change has a daily roundup of war-related posts called "Winds of War" that is worth checking out every day... it has been a great resource in the past weeks and will almost certainly be even moreso once the shooting begins.

Serving Honorably With the British

The Drudge Report has a story about "Marines Outraged After Placed Under British Command."

I think this is a silly and childish attitude. The story quotes a marine as saying:

"This is bogus, if I die, it's for the United States... not the freakin' world," said the marine, whose identity, location and mode of communication was assured anonymity. "I did not come here to take orders from the British. [We] already feel a big let down by this."

With all due respect to those serving overseas under stressful conditions, this is horribly short-sighted and narrow. The British are the only true allies we have (where are the Spanish troops?) and they will be dying side by side with us. Should we expect the British to serve under us and not return the trust? I'd be honored to serve under a British commander, fighting a war truly unpopular in his homeland. It is a sign of the special friendship of our two nations that the British (or at least their leaders) have stood by us, and the attitude espoused by the marines in this story is disrespectful and misguided.

Looks Like We're Going to War

CNN reports that the President will address the nation tonight.

I'm not excited at the prospect of war, no one should be. Soldiers and civilians will die, and that is always sad and unfortunate.

I will say, I am glad that this charade is finally coming to an end. Let's just hope it gets done right.

Order of Battle has an in-depth map of the American troop deployment in the Middle East, updated regularly.

Iraqi WMD

Global Security Newswire has good coverage of the basic possibilites re: WMD in the war in Iraq:

A fairly small release of Iraqi anthrax over Kuwait City or Baghdad could infect hundreds of thousands of people under certain conditions, according to computer models by a nonprofit research organization and described in a press briefing here yesterday.

Use of a nuclear weapon in Iraq by the United States, for retaliation or other purposes, could be just as devastating to the civilian population, depending on the size of the weapon and whether the detonation were near a major city, the analysis suggested.

The calculations were performed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which used special software - developed for the Pentagon - to model a number of potential WMD scenarios in a U.S.-led war on Iraq. The scenarios also included various Iraqi chemical weapons attacks against Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. nuclear retaliatory attacks on Baghdad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's home city of Tikrit.

Serves Them Right

UPI reports that:

French and Russian oil and gas contracts signed with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq "will not be honored," Kurdish Prime Minister Barhim Salih said in Washington Friday, just before a series of high-level meetings with Bush administration officials.

Obviously the doctrine of 'to the victor go the spoils' is properly buried, but the idea that France and Russia would benefit economically from the sacrifices of America doesn't sit well with me.

Non-Permanent Members of the UNSC

An issue that has been floating around in my head is just how the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council got the positions they have. I understood vaguely that the 10 slots are for two-year terms (5 elected each in alternate years) divvied up among pre-set regions of the world. Global Policy Forum has some excellent resources on the general nature of the Security Council, as well as links to stories surrounding the annual election cycle over the past several years.

What really interests me is whether the current fight at the U.N. will have an impact on what states are chosen come the next elections. It seems possibile that the more the United States angers the world's diplomatic corps, the more likely it becomes that nations hostile to our foreign policy will be elected to the UNSC.


The question is, does Rumsfeld want us to have any allies?

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sparked diplomatic confusion by suggesting that America would be prepared to take military action against Iraq without Britain.

True Multilateralism

Daily Kos has an excellent summary of the true meaning of multilateralism, as demonstrated in the first Persian Gulf War.

Those who have been following the current conflict closely will probably be astonished at just how comprehensive and REAL the support from other countries was.

My favorite stat:

Afghanistan: 300 troops


The Washington Post has great coverage of why, even in the best case scenario (in which we win the war and Iraq doesn't completely disintegrate as a nation-state), post-war occupation is going to put quite a strain on the Army.

It seems more and more likely that I may get my chance to serve in the desert (2005, here I come!)


Once again the U.K. is floating a compromise. This may be the last, best hope of a U.N. resolution garnering majority support.

Blunt Porteguese

Portugal's Foreign Minister let the world know where Portugal stands:

Let us suppose Portugal, proper or its archipelagos, faced a threat, who would come to our rescue? The European Commission, France, Germany?

I think it would be NATO who would come to our rescue, in other words, it would be the U.S., no one else would defend us. For instance, during the 1996 mission in Bosnia, operations took place with the support of 20 satellites, of which only one was European.

If we were attacked, is that what they would offer to defend us? How curious is this: in Bosnia, when we were called to send soldiers urgently to that region, the U.S. had C-17 and C-130 planes, and France leased ferry boats, which during the summer are employed in tourist services to Corsica.

The Beast Arrives

StrategyPage reports:

"The Beast" has arrived in Kuwait. Nine of the 62 ton, armored D9 bulldozers have landed in Kuwait. The D9s have long been used by the Israeli army for urban warfare, and is a major reason why they keep their casualties down. The D9 can plow right through small buildings, and knock down larger ones. The dozer can clear just about any obstacles from a street and it's dozer blade will set off landmines without harming the vehicle.

Where Do We Go From Here II

Yesterday I asked my favorite bloggers this question:

Starting from where we are right now, what would YOU do in Bush's position? How would you get us out of this?

Further responses:

Chris Bertram of Junius:

First, the UN and other international institutions need to be cherished. I've tried hard to think of a better word, but I can't. There's a lot wrong with the UN, and it has failed pretty miserably in some recent conflicts but I'd rather hold on to an inadequate system of international governance than have none at all and just trust to the goodwill of the rich and powerful. Note that I'm not saying that the UN's decision should be binding on everyone all the time. The intervention in Yugoslavia took place despite the UN and was nevertheless justified. It did, though, have multilateral support, and that of important international organisations. Whatever happens over Iraq mustn't destroy the possibilities for developing a more just and peaceful international order and it may yet.

There are two threats to the UN at present and they are linked. The first threat is that by being unwilling to enforce its own resolutions the UN is discredited as an impotent talking shop. The second is that the US government, frustrated at being refused permission to act by the UN, simply ignores it and takes action on its own. War should be a last resort: that means taking all reasonable steps short of war and Bush and Blair haven't done that.

So with that background, my view is that every effort should be made to clarify whether (a) there are circumstances under which France and Russia would be prepared to sanction military actions (and what those circumstances are) or (b) that there are no reasonable conditions under which they would. If France and Russia are simply making noises about an effective containment regime but would never be willing to sanction action to back it up, they are undermining the effectiveness of the UN and its future. They should be exposed and held to account.

But the Bush administration (and the British government) are unwilling to put France and Russia to the test, because to do so would conflict with what is increasingly a military rather than a political timetable. To rush to war now, as seems likely, is to reject the possibility - however remote - of building the kind of united front that could effect a change of regime in Baghdad without a war. Would Saddam Hussein go faced with such a coalition? I don't know, but it is worth a try. The trouble is, that the Bush administration isn't willing to make a serious attempt.

The other thing that is plainly lacking is any kind of a long-term policy framework for the region as a whole. As far as I can see, all talk of democratization is strictly for domestic propaganda purposes. A post-Saddam Iraq will probably be a bit better from a human rights perspective (probably right up there with Saudi Arabia!). It certainly looks like the Kurds will be sold down the river again and, with the Shi'a making up most of Iraq's population and with Iran next in the Bushites sights, I can't see the majority-rule principle getting much backing from Washington. Regionally, it is obvious that the US has to engage with the Israel-Palestine problem again, instead of just giving unconditional support to an increasingly extreme Israeli government. The administration's policy (and that of the Israeli government) seems now to be little more than to cow its enemies by the threat of overwhelming force. That may be effective for a few years, but it will be expensive and ultimately counterproductive..


I think Chris's response is quite thoughtful and worth reading, but it sidesteps a crucial issue, which is that George Bush has no credibility with the rest of the world and they no longer have any reason to trust a single thing he says.

Therefore, the first thing I'd have to do if I were him and actually cared about what happened to my country and the world, is to restore US credibility. And the only way to do that if I were George Bush would be regime change at home.

So, if I were George Bush, and were suddenly infused with some brains, integrity, and real humility, I would have no choice but to first make it a priority to convince Dick Cheney to resign as VP. (And, failing that, find some other way to get rid of him, possibly by use of a concerted effort to finally hold him to account for the many unsightly and corrput activities he has been involved in.) Then I'd replace him with the one man in America who could convincingly represent the US as a free and democratic nation - Al Gore. Then I'd resign.

This would instantly change the whole ball game. We'd still have many irrevocable problems that Bush has created - North Korea's new circumstances, just to name one - but at least the world would know the man we elected was in the White House instead of the idiot who has brought the world to its current disasterous state.

The new Gore White House would have a hell of a diplomatic mission to lead from that moment on, attempting to undo some of the damage Bush has wrought, but I'm sure he'd handle it like a gentleman rather than like a drunken faux-cowboy who thinks too much of himself, and our allies would respond accordingly. Gore is no wimp on the issue of Iraq, so I'd expect him to make clear his willingness to back the UN with force of arms where necessary - but not to go off half-cocked on an all-out unilateral invasion. Which is the way it should be.

Angry Bear:

This is a tough subject for me to write about, as I lack expertise in this area, but I'll give it a try. Ideally, Bush would find a way to simultaneously
  • Maintain containment in Iraq.
  • Restore strained relations with allies--France, Germany, Mexico.
  • Improve relations with the Muslim world.
  • Preserve the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the process. This is more important than preserving Bush's credibility.
Are there reasonable ways to achieve all of these objectives? Perhaps, though I doubt that this administration will follow any of them. If Rove anticipates "World Makes U.S. Back Down" headlines around the globe, then backing-down is a non-starter for this administration. Imagine combining the state of the domestic economy with the Chinese/Spy Plane incident writ large, and even Dick Gephardt might beat Bush. So my focus is not particularly focused on what is right, but rather on strategies the administration could actually use to back down without making it seem like backing down. On domestic policy, this administration has great success with the strategy of repeating a lie until it seems true to the general public. I doubt that would work in this instance, but it might be worth a try. The strategy in this case would be for the administration to repeat ad nauseum this story: "for twelve years and umpteen resolutions, Saddam has defied the U.N.; now the U.S. and President Bush are making him comply. The only way to prevent a war was through this administration's credible threat of war." To feed the outraged right, augment all statements with lines about how ineffective Clinton was in enforcing Iraqi compliance to U.N. resolutions. The story would be the "only George W. Bush could prevent war" version of "only Nixon could go to China". Another option is to intentionally escalate the rhetoric until Britain backs out. Then blame Tony Blair, who is then probably out as Prime Minister, but the Labor Party's dominance likely endures. Find a way to tie this into Clinton as well. This tact would increase the global outrage, but the Republican base might enjoy the chance to further vent their outrage at the Europeans. This is unlikely. Perhaps a better way for the administration to back down is to not back-down, but not start war either. Specifically, this involves a second UN resolution that in essence says "War starts when either or both Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei say it starts". In this scenario, there would be two categories of reports that Blix and ElBaradei could make. The first would be regular progress updates and reports of obstruction of inspections, and on the basis of these, the UN Security Council could authorize or not authorize war. The second would be a list of trigger-items. If, at any time 14 days or more after passage of the resolution, inspectors formally report the presence of any Nuclear, Chemical or Biological weapons (and the definition of these would be clearly spelled out), only a super-majority of the Security Council (12/15, say-it would be spelled out in the resolution. I like 12/15; it means that the U.S. and Britain just have to convince one other country) can prevent war. The key is that the U.S. get a measurable and verifiable trigger along with up-front commitment to that trigger by the currently reluctant UNSC members. Kenneth Pollack might even support a plan like this. There would need to be a face-saving quid pro quo for the administration. I think the most important would be commitments by Russia, France, and China to not use their veto power in any proceedings related to Iraq. The White House could draft appropriate spin: "Negotiating through the night with foreign leaders, President Bush reached a stunning compromise: War immediate upon discovery of WMD. France, Russia, China agree will not veto on Iraq." In an alternative version, replace the UN with NATO, which might make Bush's base slightly less enraged. Not yet addressed are the perceptions of the United States in the Muslim world. Certainly, not starting this war would be a good start on improving relations. But war or no, the administration should fulfill the commitments we made in Afghanistan, immediately.

Army Family Journal

MSNBC has a new weblog called "An Army Family Journal":

In 18 months of marriage, Tamara has spent only 180 days with her husband, Noel, a lieutenant colonel in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Now Noel is off to Kuwait as part of a massive deployment of troops bracing for war in Iraq. This is Tamara's journal.

Keep an eye on it.

Our Troops Abroad

Sometimes I have trouble fathoming just how many young Americans are living on the borders of Iraq now. What's the number now, 250,000? Well that's the population of Richmond and Charlottesville combined... I wish I could hear what the young infantry sergeants have to say right now. A minor change in luck (say I didn't receive my educational delay) and I could very well be with them now. I don't feel guilty for not being there, my time to serve will come soon enough. But it is strange to think about the turns of fate which have led so many young Americans into the desert while leaving you and I to read about it on the Internet.

The Truth About Shock and Awe

Oliver Willis has a post up about the morality of 'shock and awe'. I have to admit, I don't really see the big deal. Whether opposed to war in Iraq or not, the numbers involved in this rumoured bombing campaign do not merit the attention they are getting.

According to this story, the plan is that:

By the end of 48 hours, as many as 800 Tomahawks will have fallen on Baghdad - more than during the entire 1991 Gulf War. At the same time, Stealth bombers will strike as many as 3,000 military targets across Iraq.

By failing to give any context to these numbers, the story has been blown out of proportion.

There are certainly 3,000 viable military targets around Iraq (we targeted almost ten times that many in the first war). If we were to launch bombs against each target, there would be nothing illegitimate about that. Most of the controversy centers on the missile attack on Baghdad. Well let's put the Baghdad cruise missile numbers in perspective:

If 800 Tomahawks fall on the city itself, that's 400 tons (sea-based Tomahawks have 1000 lb. warheads, the air-based version can have up to 3000 lbs.) Not quite the 3900 tons we dropped in two days of firebombing on Dresden (none of which, of course, was precision guided), which is what this campaign is being compared to. Certainly not worthy of this:

It would be the most intense non-nuclear bombing campaign ever - potentially making the aerial assault depicted in Picasso's "Guernica" look like a Monet watercolor.

No, it would be a bombing using less than 10% of the tonnage used at Dresden, all of it precision guided; no firebombing.

Another oft-cited statistic (found here, for example) is that:

U.S. forces plan to drop 10 times the bombs in the opening days of the air campaign in Iraq than they did in the first Persian Gulf war.

A few paragraphs later, however, the true statistic emerges:

[P]art of that plan is to launch an initial air bombardment using 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the opening days of 1991 war.

This statistic is true and meaningless and in fact very misleading:

"Smart weapons" -- the military calls them precision-guided munitions (PGMs) -- weren't widely used in 1991. Only 244 laser-guided bombs and 88 cruise missiles hit Iraq, out of a total of some 250,000 bombs dropped during the war.

Why were PGMs so rarely used? They were brand new! We had limited stock and did not know how effective they would be. And did you catch that last number? 250,000 bombs we dropped in the first war. Now we plan to drop 800 and the sky is falling.

For further comparison, here are some stats from the war in Afghanistan:

By the end of January, the United States had flown about 25,000 sorties in the air campaign and dropped 18,000 bombs, including 10,000 precision munitions.

800 cruise missiles in two days is a lot of firepower. But in the annals of bombing warfare, it is a measure of our discretion and precision, not our carelessness or disregard for civilian life.

Declaration of War

UPI's Anglosphere raises a question I'm surprised I haven't heard raised more: will there be a formal declaration of war?

Such a declaration would commit both nations to full victory, and also to commit themselves to a clear and definitive end to hostilities. It would mean that whatever internal security measures needed to deal with terrorist assaults in the course of the war would be done under the traditional and well-understood constitutional exceptions for time of war, which also have a logical stopping point.

Three major undeclared wars with unsatisfactory outcomes [Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I] are surely enough for a half century. The apparent dedication to seek regime change as a war goal this time is a welcome change. A formal declaration of war would be an appropriate means of seeing this dedication through.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Powell Says U.S. Could Get 9 or 10 Votes in Security Council

Seems exaggerated (I can't see Cameroon siding against France), but even if true, the costs may be more than we can bear:

From Kristof:

[L]et's take stock of how our invasion of Iraq is going. The Western alliance is ferociously strained, NATO is paralyzed, America is resented by millions, the United Nations is in crisis, U.S. pals like Tony Blair are being skewered at home, North Korea has exploited our distraction to crank up plutonium production, oil prices have surged, and the world financial markets have sagged.

Most of the liberal hawk bloggers (I'd probably classify myself that way generally, if not necessarily on this issue) have left the room (CalPundit, Josh Marshall, Agonist). Matthew Yglesias and Mark Kleiman are still trying to hold on.

What I'd like to do is hear some fleshed-out alternatives to war, now that we've gotten ourselves into this position. Starting from where we are right now, what would YOU do in Bush's position? How would you get us out of this?

The responses:

Matthew Yglesias

If I were president I would go to war. I have no doubts about my good faith, my intentions, or my ability to handle the aftermath of war wisely. It seems to me that, done right, invading Iraq even at this point could do the world a great deal of good. Similarly, if I were an influential advisor I would be advocating war and steering post-war policy in an appropriate direction.

The key thing here would be working to move Iraq toward a democratic federal state, consisting of a multitude (i.e., more than just three) provinces, over a period of several years.

It seems to me that the main risks this conflict brings are of tearing apart the good feelings that ought to exist between the United States and the other democracies of the world, but that global opinion could be brought around retrospectively by an appropriate postwar policy.

Sadly, I'm not president and I don't have any influence over White House policy, so it seems to me that they may well do something stupid, that only marginally enhances our security vis-a-vis Iraq while degrading our security on a number of other fronts.

More on his site:

The alternatives to war � give the inspectors more time, the Walzer "little war", etc. � don't sound to me like they offer any real advantages over war. They won't be cheap, since they involve keeping large numbers of US troops in the region for an indefinite amount of time. They won't be very beneficial to the Iraqi people, since they'll keep them suffering under the dual burdens of sanctions and Saddam. They won't better equip us to cope with North Korea since it'll require constant, full-time attention from the US diplomatic corps to keep them in place. They'll generate less anti-American sentiment abroad than a war would, but not less than the already-considerable amount we're dealing with, and because they'll keep this issue on a constant simmer they all-but-guarantee that America won't turn its image in the world around.

Tom Spencer:

We've screwed this up so terribly the best alternative is admitting that we were wrong and backing off the war threat. That's the only thing that will repair the diplomatic damage W and the boys have done.

As for Yglesias's position, I don't view this as a "how expensive is it?" question. This is a moral issue. You don't kill tens of thousands of people in your Shock and Awe air assault on Baghdad just because it costs about the same as pursuing another option.

Admittedly, Saddam is a horrible repressive dictator but I'm not sure the costs of war (diplomatically, psychologically, and economically) justify this action. Another cost is that this war will increase the threat of terrorism and destabilize the region as well. We support a lot of dictators that are as bad or worse as Saddam but you don't see us all cranked up trying to remove them, do you?

This war will do much more damage to our image abroad than many folks realize. W and the boys have already damaged our image in the world through their incompetence and pro-war bluster but an unjust war will utterly destroy it.

Ezra Klein (great new blog):

First, I'm going to approach this as if Bush's term just ended and I'm being inaugurated, doing this as Bush wouldn't work because nobody trusts him and it would be inconsistent with his past behavior.

Once I'd been sworn in I'd immediately make Kenneth Pollack a senior adviser. Matthew Yglesias phrased our (left hawk's) doubts as coming to terms with the fact that the war is being run by Bush and not Pollack, so I'd immediately correct that situation. More importantly, there'd have to be a reckoning with both Americans and the world. I would have to go out and very clearly re-articulate a foreign policy doctrine, because the problem with the justifications currently being thrown around is that none jive with our implied foreign policy, and so none of the very persuasive arguments can be used by the Administration. We don't have to be the world's policeman, but we do have to be actively engaged in a worldwide neighborhood watch. If somebody has attacked multiple residents, is stacking arms in their kitchen, is beating the hell out of their kids, and is freely talking about how many of their neighbors they'd like to off, nobody has to stand still and wait for the first death.

So that'd be the justification, it'd be the one that Pollack and us "left hawks" have been throwing around, it'd be clearly articulated and defended, by me, at a very long and very unscripted press conference. Next, as soon as possible, I'd give a speech at the UN. The speech would be a recap of the new doctrine, the justifications, the danger Saddam poses, and the reasons that regime change is our only viable option. Most importantly, it would be made crystal clear that we realize not everyone will be on our side, and there will be no ill will

or repercussions against countries doing what they think to be best. We'd challenge those who see war as unnecessary to propose alternate solutions that would be sustainable in the long run. We hope that they will be with us, but if not, then their decision will be respected and accepted. A resolution would be drawn up, with the full force of both Britain and the US behind it, and it would be released into the Security Council. We would abide by its vote.

Assuming the vote was in our favor, we'd go to war and conduct it in the best way possible. I know my motivations, and I trust myself to act in a fashion consistent with them. So we'd work to minimize civilian casualties, maximize humanitarian assistance, and, when the time came, put as many resources as needed into rebuilding Iraq and helping it limp towards an ethnically representative democracy.

To quickly address the potential inconsistency on the fact that I would abide by the UN vote but don't think America presently should. The reason I don't think that the US should be bound by the coming Security Council vote is that it's a referendum on Bush and American power more then it is one on Saddam. As such, its results aren't pure and it cannot be allowed to divert us from such an important task. In other circumstances, I see the rule of international law as profoundly important and would do all I could to strengthen it.

None of this stuff is rocket science. What I'm proposing is to simply be honest and be diplomatic, it's amazing how badly Bush and Co. have fucked up this prologue, and it doesn't speak well of their ability to handle the aftermath. Had they just used a bit of diplomacy, we'd be staring down a couple of abstentions rather then staring at a couple of vetoes. But, I can't truly think of any alternatives to war. The "small war" proposed by Michael Walzer does not seem viable in the long run, and would do nothing to ameliorate the suffering of the Iraqi people. None of the other options, increased inspections in particular, seem realistic. So, in summation, I'd go to war but do it honestly and diplomatically. Seems pretty easy, I should run for president.

JB Armstrong from MyDD (who has predicted that there will be no war this month):

I'd help the Kurds establish a nationstate within Iraq. It still allows the cover of going into Iraq, but not for war.

Left in the West:

This is the most difficult question confronting us on the Iraq situation. Indeed, the problem isn't whether we should go to war or not go to war, for the term not going to war involves so many alternatives that it is hard to know what it properly means.

In fact, I believe at this point, President Bush has little choice but to go to war, unless someone else in the equation brokers a deal. Otherwise he looks like he is unilaterally backing down. That is something that is a problem for a couple reasons: 1)It doesn't restore the UN's power in any meaningful way. If the UN only has power because the U.S. volunteers to submit to its authority (for now), the UN's power remains only as long as the U.S. agrees to submit; and 2)It makes the U.S. appear unwilling to back up threats. Whereas a deal brokered by someone else would give the U.S. the ability to say that they were simply trying to make the best they could of world opinion, a unilateral giving-in by America would mean almost certain failure.

Indeed, I believe it is the United Nations or the vocal opponents of war (i.e. France, Germany, and Russia) who must take a form of action in order to prevent it. Canada's idea was the best on the table so far. If I was President Bush, I would have accepted it and I would have pressured France, Germany, and Russia to accept it as well. If a new resolution, clearer than the last, and providing clear protection for Saddam if he complies, passed, it would provide everyone enough cover to claim they came out ahead. Unfortunately, the President seems to be rejecting this option.

Canada's resolution [read more about it here - UH], I believe, was the best solution to this situation. It would greatly decrease the likelihood of going to war and it would also remove the threat of Iraq to the region.

The Agonist's response is here (he also addresses Marshall's follow-up).

Charles Dodgon from The Looking Glass:

Keep up pressure with the monitors. Trumpet everything they find loudly (and with some justification) as the result of pressure from the military buildup. Also arrange support from UNSC permanent members for a strong permanent monitoring regime as a quid pro quo for backing off an an immediate attack -- with particular emphasis on the French, who undermined the last one. Add monitoring for egregious human rights violations while we're at it. With that in place and functioning, declare victory and withdraw.

Erdogan and Turkey

UPI suggests that now that Erdogan can become the formal head of state:

Erdogan's popularity -- and Thursday's explicit backing for the idea from Turkey's respected military -- may allow him to choose to let the United States to move in despite the solid opposition to war by those who will have voted for him and the opposition of virtually everyone else in the country.

We'll see if they do it fast enough. March 17 is rapidly approaching.

De-Baathing Iraq

Professor Porch at the Naval Postgraduate School has an article on Germany, Japan and the De-Baathification of Post-Saddam Iraq:

Given the World War II analogy that apparently guides U.S. policy for a transition to a stable, democratic, post-Saddam Iraq, what lessons might American policymakers draw from our "nation-building" experience in post-1945 Germany and Japan? The Bush administration's goal is to disarm Iraq. But it must make certain that Iraq never again troubles the stability of the Persian Gulf region. For this to happen, Saddam's ambitions to lead the Arab world in the "liberation" of Jerusalem must be utterly discredited, both in the eyes of his own people and of the world, especially the Arab world. This will probably require, as in Germany and Japan after 1945, an unambiguous military defeat of Baathist Iraq, followed by war crimes trials. The risk for the United States is that defeat, trials and a politique of "public shaming" may make Iraqis less, not more, receptive to a democratization process because Saddam has already effectively "de-Baathicized" his own people. Saddam's organizations of repressive state power must certainly be exorcised. In both post-war German and Japan, however the Allies discovered that, even though freed from SS, Gestapo, Kemptai and party supervision, entrenched government bureaucracies, in which alumni of the defunct ancien r�gimes continued to exercise their authority, remained wedded to authoritarian methods and hence proved remarkably resistant to the imposition of "democratic" ideas and practices.

It's long, but good (and even a bit optimistic). Hopefully someone in the current administration understands the size of this task.

Assignment: Kuwait

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting series running called "Assignment: Kuwait", with "daily dispatches and photos looking at life on the base and the servicemen and women who are stationed there."

Today's was the second, and focused on domestic Kuwaiti life:

Khadija Sekouri, a guest worker in Kuwait City, worries that she can't afford a gas mask. Good masks sell for upward of 50 Kuwaiti dinar (KD), or $150 US.

"For a family of five people, it's a problem. This is too much money," says Sekouri, a shopping mall clerk. With that much money, she could fly back to her native Morocco to wait out the war. A friend, Samina Kahar from the Philippines, says she's in the same boat. She makes 80 KD a month working at a children's clothing store.

Unsurprisingly, the scars of the last conflict remain:

Memories of Iraq's 1990 invasion run deep here. Bookstores still display coffeetable books about the event. Everyone has a story to tell. Ghanin Al-Muklaf, a naval administrator, offers me tea as he recalls an eight-month ordeal as a POW, shifted from one Iraqi city to the next by his captors. He was given one meal a day and no bathroom breaks after 7 p.m. He hasn't found much comfort in the peace, however. "From 1990 [on], we've been too afraid," says Al-Muklaf. "Tell America, please, to finish it."

This brings to mind something that has troubled me about a lot of the commentary over the past several weeks. The problem is this: America is an isolated place, and we who live here are isolated people. Our day-to-day experiences are mostly unaffected by what goes on in the rest of the world (gas prices?), even when those events are the result of our own foreign policy. I think that was one of the jarring things we learned on 9/11: we are indeed a part of the world, and what happens out there can affect us here.

Despite (or perhaps because of) that singularly horrible day, most Americans still have distorted and narrow views of the outside world. We only experience the triumphs and tragedies of the rest of the planet via our televisions (and for some, the Internet). The same disconnect and isolation that breeds misunderstanding about America in the Arab world leaves Americans mostly ignorant about the hopes and fears of those abroad.

I have a degree from Harvard in government, studied the causes of war, terrorism, and the ethics of international relations. I can speak intelligently about the theoretical geopolitical impact of a war in Iraq or North Korean aggression. But it's all book knowledge. That's a large part of why I will seek to serve in Korea when I begin my military service, and would gladly accept assignment to the Middle East.

I'm tired of talking about places I've never seen and peoples I've never met.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias agrees, and makes a good point about the current administration:

One reason I try to avoid prognosticating about what effect this or that will have on "the Arab street" is that I really have no idea what things are like there. I've spent a lot of time in France, in the Czech Republic, and in Russia, and some time in England, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria, so if something comes up about those countries I feel like I know what I'm talking about.

One concern I have about the Bush administration is that it's not clear to me that they really know anything about the Middle East. Condoleeza Rice who, by all accounts, is the foreign policy hand closest to the president, is an expert on Russia and the Soviet Union. To my way of
thinking, this would be a lot like a Cold War president appointing a noted Middle East scholar to be National Security Advisor.

That about sums up my foreign travel (though I've spent some time in Germany. Italy, Poland, and Slovenia, but not Russia).

As for the Bush administration, what strikes me is that much of their worldview is still informed by the oil business. I am not making the cynic's argument that this is all about oil, but read this old Salon article. Though it is emphasizing the status quo element guaranteed in energy policy, it seems quite likely that Bush's understanding of the Middle East is also primarily informed by what he learned in the oil business (and perhaps what he's read in the Bible).


WP reports that the U.N. inspectors' report will once again be of no help:

Based on previews from the inspectors, the reports will likely include the kind of evidence that both sides of the debate will use to bolster their cases for and against going to war now.

This is a frustrating charade. Neither side actually cares what these inspectors do or do not find. At this point, even if they found a whole warehouse full of nuclear weapons, the anti-war bloc would point to the effectiveness of inspections. If they never find anything, the U.S. will say it's because Iraq is still hiding the ball.

I just don't see the point of these inspections if they aren't effective. Bush either needs to start this war, or propose some other radical change. The status quo is unacceptable.

The Horse's Mouth

AP reports that Bush will be holding a prime-time news conference tonight at 8pm EST. This will be his first solo news conference since November:

Fleischer has previously said if Bush does decide to order U.S. forces into action, he'll want to talk to the nation. But Fleischer says this news conference is not that occasion.

French Manipulation

IHT is reporting that the French know full well how dangerous a U.N. veto would be:

A French legislator said Wednesday that Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told members of the National Assembly majority last week that if France used a veto to block a new United States-sponsored resolution on Iraq at the United Nations, it "would be firing a bullet in the back of the Americans."

And though America wouldn't die from the wound, it would remember it for a long time. Whatever is motivating French obstinancy at this point, the damage being done to Franco-American relations seem more and more irreparable as the situation drags on.

British Proxy

FOXNews has the widely reported story that the British are working on a compromise Security Council resolution. The only question I have is, is Tony Blair acting independently since his domestic situation really demands another resolution, or are the British simply acting as proxy because Bush does not want to be seen a capable of compromise?

Fumbling Towards Diplomacy

Fred Kaplan has this scathing attack on Bush's diplomacy:

It is becoming increasingly and distressingly clear that, however justified the coming war with Iraq may be, the Bush administration is in no shape � diplomatically, politically, or intellectually � to wage it, or at least to settle its aftermath. It is hard to remember when, if ever, the United States has so badly handled a foreign-policy crisis or been so distrusted by so many friends and foes as a result.

His analysis of the situation is thorough and worth reading, whatever your views on the war.

Civilian Casualties

Defenselink news is reporting that "The U.S. military will go to great lengths to limit civilian deaths and to minimize damage to nonmilitary facilities should war with Iraq be necessary."

This news will surely come as a blow to those who like to equate American military force with the terrorism of cowards.

War Liberal

War Liberal reports that it's not just the signs that demonstrate a lack of deep thinking at anti-war protests:

I remain convinced that most anti-war protestors haven't thought things through at all.
But Don Nolti, an anti-war protester, and other members of the peace project offered an answer to Gilliland's question. They said they wanted the United Nations weapons inspectors to continue examining Saddam Hussein's missiles, and avoid war at all costs.

Honestly, this has never made sense to me. War is an awful thing, but this belief that it's the worst of things... It's utterly without merit.

The argument was disappointing to 7-year-old Mac Tiers, who was among the first to arrive at the Capitol steps for the hour-long event, armed with a blue magic marker and poster board.

Tiers, who joined his father John Stith on the steps, carefully colored in a poster stating "Fight for Peace," a slogan he came up with himself.

"It means not to war and not to fight people," he said.

Question: If the age of [the child] hadn't been included, do you think you would have been able to tell him apart from your average anti-war protestor?


A Study In Contrasts

Here's a perfect example of the point I keep making about the infantile signs in photos of anti-war demonstrations. The first picture is of pro-war protestors at a peace rally. Their three signs read:

Nobody is for war, but adults know it is sometimes necessary to stop mass murdering madmen.

Peace right now means Saddam keeps killing.

Except for ending slavery, fascism, and naziism (sic), war has never solved anything.

Compare those signs to the one below from the anti-war protest. It reads:

War is Not Healthy for Children and All Living Things

That's real helpful. I want to see signs say "War in Iraq Will Increase Support for Al-Qaeda" or "War in Iraq Will Destabilize the Entire Region" or "Why is Iraq More Dangerous than Saudi Arabia?" Can't their signs say anything intelligent? I want to be persuaded by the anti-war rallies, but I need something more.

I don't know where I stand on the war issue, but I do know that even a billion protestors carrying signs that simply say "No War in Iraq" bear no element of moral persuasion.

Hey dude, give peace a chance, man

Yet another picture from an anti-war rally that just makes me go: Huh?

The two visible signs read: "Eye 4 an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind" and "Educate Don't Devastate"

I'm afraid I have no idea who these slogans are directed at or what they have to do with the potential war on Iraq. Unless you really believe the theory that the President is primarily motivated by revenge for the assassination plot against his father (and I don't), then this isn't about an eye for an eye. At all.

The second sign makes even less sense. Who are we supposed to be educating? The Iraqi people? And how would the protestors suggest we do that, by sending the Peace Corps? We're dealing with a regime that oppresses and murders its own citizens, and somehow "Educate Don't Devastate" occurs to someone as the solution. Unbelievable.

There are good, sophisticated, rational arguments against going to war. But once again, photos like these make me even more persuaded that the anti-war rallies are not in touch with those arguments.

Hitchens on Turkey

Christopher Hitchens says we're better off without Turkey as our ally (and rattles off a list of Turkey's indiscretions). Hey Christopher, why is it that this story came out AFTER the Turks denied our request to deploy troops on their soil? Could it be that what you really mean to say is that we're better off without anyone who disagrees with us?

Red-flag reminder: we need allies. Burning bridges is a bad idea, and it will only make those conflicts which are necessary and justified that much more difficult to win.

Giving Pause

Daily Kos, citing a WP story, has a good analysis of the consequences of the Turkish parliamentary decision:

Politically, it's clear that the loss of Turkey doesn't bode well for US chances at the UN Security Council. Both Mexico and Chile are upset at the US's summary dismissal of Canada's compromise resolution (which would've given Iraq four more weeks to prove it is fully cooperating). The issue, of course, is the looming Iraqi summer. Those four weeks would push combat operations into that summer inferno. But politically, it was a blow to US efforts to appear rational.

New efforts to avert war have received a shot in the arm, as another of Iraq's neighbors feels so unconcerned about the "Iraqi threat" that it has refused US troops basing rights. Turkey now joins Jordan and Saudi Arabia as Iraqi neighbors and US allies refusing to provide access to US troops.

I wonder if any of this gives Bush et al the slightest pause. Even if you are pro-war, things like this should be raising red flags and provoking introspection.

Bad PR in Turkey

The L.A. Times (registration req'd) has this analysis of the circumstances leading up to the Turkish parliamentary defeat of a request to allow deployment of U.S. troops:

As Turks offered explanations Sunday for this stinging defiance of their strongest ally, tales of American insensitivity were high on the list.

"We don't like the way we were pushed around by the Americans," said Emin Sirin, one of dozens of lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party who defied its leaders and voted against the U.S. deployment.

"The Americans kept giving ultimatums and deadlines, asking Turkey to jump into a barrel of fire," he said. "They seemed to think we could be bought off, but we had real security concerns about what Iraq would look like after Saddam. They never addressed those concerns."

Amazing that Rove and the domestic staff can sell shit on a stick to the American public (or at least they could, see below for the Democrats' new credibility gap attack), but Bush and his foreign policy staff can't even win a vote in a NATO ally's parliament with the backing of the Prime Minister and ruling party leadership.

Anti-War Children?

Here's something I don't understand: the emphasis on children protesting at anti-war rallies. Is there any way these children understand what is happening in Iraq? Even if you are opposed to war, I should hope that the arguments you rest on are sufficiently sophisticated and eduated to be beyond the grasps of 7-year old children. If so (and there certainly are such arguments), why resort to the simplistic anti-violence intuition that these children symbolize?

UPDATE: Re: Cheryl's comment: I agree insofar as I don't think the pro-war movement would be strengthened at all by having children waving flags at their rallies either. But there's a key difference with a 4th of July parade: it is about a simple intuition, national pride. The anti-war protests are not. To be politically active and influential on either side of the war question requires more complex reasoning and explication.

The point is, if even a child (incapable of the requisite reasoning for true political thinking) can hold a sign, I have trouble being moved by such rallies. It does not mean the anti-war protestors are wrong, or that they don't actually have sophisticated explanations and arguments on their side. It just means that photos like the one above do nothing to advance them.

Arab Disunity = Dynamic Pluralism? Um, no.

Little Green Footballs has some coverage of the fractious Arab League meeting today, titling his post "No Future for the Arab League."

For some pro-Arab spin, check out this editorial from Arab News:

What if this public expression of �disunity� is a sign of political maturity, and thus good news for the Arabs? Is it not possible that we may be witnessing the beginning of a genuine debate about what the Arabs can and cannot do together?

I'm sorry, but since when do authoritarian regimes engage in genuine debate? I doubt they would even know it if they saw it. Leaders who suppress genuine debate within their own country seem unlikely to engage in it themsleves. They understand propaganda and brute force, not pluralism and dialogue. The article also has this strange analogy:

There is no reason why Arab �disunity� should be regarded as a sickness while disunity in the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is seen as sign of dynamic pluralism.

That's an interesting take on the French bullying of Eastern Europe: dynamic pluralism. I'd say the fact that NATO and the EU are being compared to the Arab League should signal to Chirac just how destructive he has become.

The most choice part of the article is this:

What is new is that some Arab states are now prepared to behave in a normal way: That is to say express disagreement with this or that position in public without becoming involved in a campaign of hatred against those who hold other views.

Does this writer even read his own publication? From the main Arab News article on the day's drama, we have these dynamically pluralistic words from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to Muammar Qaddafi:

"Who brought you to power? Don�t say anything and don�t interfere in matters in which you don�t have any role. You are a liar. Your grave awaits you."

Yep, those Arab states sure are behaving in the normal way. They make Jacques Chirac look quite snuggly toward the Eastern Europeans.

Sympathy for Foreign Leaders

Talk about a rock and a hard place. Leaders who oppose the United States win the support of their people but risk the friendship of this country. Leaders who favor America, like those in Spain and Italy, do so at the cost of angering their own population.

Then there are the Turks. CNN reports the problems facing the government's attempt to win backing for U.S. troops:

The proposal has little popular support -- hundreds of thousands of Turks protested on the streets of Ankara, and public opinion polls show that more than 90 percent of the population opposes war.

I can't think of a single issue on which America's elected leaders would attempt to contravene public will of that strength. Would Rove let that happen? That ought to stand as testament (for better or worse) of the hegemonic power America is wielding.

UPDATE: The Daily Kos fleshed out the domestic situation in Turkey and raised the same concern.

UPDATE: He also has a stellar analysis of the effect Bush might be having on Mexico's President Fox, with a good look at Mexico's rececnt political history.


After reading Oliver Willis' post regarding the attacks on the free speech of anti-war advocates (many of whom I disagree with), it occurred to me that there might be some parallel between what Willis calls the "New American Fascists" (a little harsh for my taste) and one of their main enemis, Jacques Chirac. Here it is:

FOX News' Neil Cavuto to American anti-war advocates:

[B]efore you act up, may I suggest you consider [our troops], and just shut up.

Jacques Chirac to the Eastern European nations who signed letters of support for the U.S.:

It is not really responsible behavior. It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.

Cavuto again, this time speaking to the President of Latvia:

[N]ow France and some of the more established countries, including Germany, seem to be threatening your very membership eventually in the E.U., and NATO. Are they strong- arming you? They are the ones who seem to be telling you... to shut up.

Let's get this straight, Neil.. suppressing an anti-war advocate is patriotism, but suppressing a pro-war advocate is strong-arming?

"It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own." - Thomas Jefferson


Mickey Kaus has a good analysis of what he calls proceduralism, as applied to the U.N. and Iraq. Particularly worth noting is his recognition that those anti-war advocates who emphasize the costs of war and post-war occupation may be missing their own point:

The seemingly sophisticated focus, among antiwar types, on the difficulty of administering postwar Iraq actually undermines the anti-war case, in this sense, because it suggests that without those difficulties a war outside the U.N. would be justifiable. In fact, those difficulties are largely irrelevant to the initial question of procedural legitimacy.

He also points out that the difficulty facing the United States at the U.N. is not a result of the breakdown of international law. Instead it is in some ways a perfect example of the restraint that international law is supposed to entail.

[T]hat's what the international rules mean -- that we sometimes have to do things that are worse for us, including things that increase the risks we face. That's the price of having an international structure of law -- a New World Order, someone once called it -- which will be a handy thing to have when we're combatting terrorism (which we'll be doing for the rest of our lives).

On the other hand, from a proceduralist perspective (to which I do not necessarily subscribe) I'm not sure Kaus' analysis is complete. The options as he sees them are 1) the U.N. supports an American-led war; 2) France vetoes and American attacks anyway; 3) France vetoes and the U.S. abides by the rules.

In particular, it is this third possibility that Kaus did not fully examine. Even if Bush et al abide by a U.N. refusal to authorize war, there may still be significant damage done to the U.N.'s credibility within the United States. Remember that Bush almost didn't go the U.N. for Resolution 1441. It was only the efforts of Powell (and perhaps Blair) that involved the U.N. in the first place.

Thus if France (or Russia) vetoes, or the U.S. simply cannot garner 9 votes, the lesson learned might not be that American must sometimes bear the costs of abiding by international rules. Instead, the lesson learned might be that the next time a conflict arises, the United States should not involve the U.N. at all.

Kaus acknowledges this, but only insofar as the U.S. might "even to try to replace the U.N. with a new organization with better procedures." Isn't there another possibility? Perhaps the U.S. will leave the U.N. just as it is, but ignore it. That ought to be the most frightening possibility for proceduralists.

Russia, Pakistan, Mexico, Guinea, Iraq

Looks like Russia is saber-rattling with its veto power. This may explain why France seemed to back off from its veto threat.

On the other hand, the same story notes the very surprising (to me at least) possibility that Pakistan may actually vote with the United States. Musharraf has been on rather shaky ground with the religious powers in Pakistan, and this is sure to antagonize them. I wonder if we will hear what caused this shift. Add it to Mexico's wavering earlier this week, and Bush may have 6 of the 9 votes he needs. The pressure would really seem to be mounting on the African members.

Not so, says Guinea. You have to love diplomatese. The tiny country of Guinea is "in negotiations with everybody," yet they "cannot say that pressure is being applied." After all, pressure usually only occurs when the parties have unequal bargaining power. That wouldn't be the case between the United States and Guinea, right?