"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Friday, 12 December 2003
Getting down to basics in Iraq - get mean or get out...Okay, I'm surfing the net and find a cut-to-the-chase piece on this Iraq war thing we're doing at the moment. And it seems to me this fellow at warblogging.com is good at getting to the real issue. We elected to have this war. And we did. We're there and no matter what the liberal left says, we have to deal with what we've done.
So we "win" this war, or we haul ass out of there.
Warblogging was founded in July of 2002 by "George Paine" - that's a pseudonym and it's hard to find out who he is. But the site has been referenced in Time Magazine, on the Reuters news wire, on National Public Radio, in The Village Voice, in The Globe and Mail, in Der Spiegel, and the Village Voice. So it's not ocscure.
It opens with a bit of history, or an historical claim.
Guerilla wars are not easy things to win. History is full of great powers -- ranging from the United Kingdom to France to the Soviet Union to the United States of America -- losing guerilla wars. I think that it can be stated with authority that guerillas tend to win guerilla wars.
The Jewish groups fighting the British and Arabs for the state of Israel won their guerilla war. The Mujahedin in Afghanistan won their guerilla war. The Viet Cong won two wars against two great powers. The Khmer Rouge won their war. The Tamil Tigers aren't necessarily winning, but they're not necessarily losing either. The Irish Republican Army won, at least to some extent. The African National Congress won. The Kosovo Liberation Army won, and the FARC now control 40% of Columbia. The British lost in Iraq the first time around, and in Mandatory Palestine too. The Sandanistas won, at least for a while. The Algerian guerillas pushed the French from Algeria. The American rebels beat back the British redcoats.
Hundreds of guerilla conflicts can be listed, and in only a handful of cases could the superior military power be called the victor. And, when the superior military power wins it's generally only with significant losses.
There's a very good reason for this. Guerilla wars are usually wars in which the outcome matters an incredible amount for one side and not nearly as much for the other. Groups that engage in guerilla warfare are generally invaded or occupied peoples. They feel they are fighting for their very freedom, for their very lives. On the other hand their opponents are usually less invested in the conflict. The war they're fighting is often very far from home and very far from the actual national interests of their own countries.
Now that last comment is an interesting one.
We have been told this war is in our interest, that it's vital to our survival. In the run-up to the war we were told about the weapons of mass destruction and how they posed a grave threat to us, and we had to act - in self-defense. These guys, we were told, had connections to the guys who brought down the World Trade Center and messed up the Pentagon and killed three thousand of our folks. Invading Iraq, tossing out its government and occupying Iraq with a government we appointed, was just and right. And too, Saddam Hussein was an evil man and it was our duty to free the Iraqi people of him.
Now that these claims have been put aside - except for the one about Saddam Hussein being evil - we vehemently argue we have done this to bring a free-market, capitalist secular democracy to the region. Doing this will remake that factious region into one of peace and prosperity. It will be a shining example.
Well, as nice as that might be, the concept is a bit abstract compared to the previous explanations, and thus less than compelling. It doesn't "matter an incredible amount to our side" - because it is so idealistic, and perhaps not very compellingly "realistic." It doesn't stir the soul and make one want to enlist to save motherhood and apple pie, or even applehood and mother pie.
But we do have a wonderful military, with awesome powers. So?
This fellow claims we are not likely to win the war, or the occupation, or whatever, even so:
... Strictly speaking, militarily speaking, the Iraqi insurgents are no match whatsoever for the might of the American military assembled today in Iraq. But if the history of assymetric warfare has taught us nothing else it is that assembled military might means little when a conflict matters incredibly to one side or another. Those who engage in guerilla warfare don't need to win on the field of battle. They don't have to completely decimate the enemy's forces. Instead they simply have to do more damage to their enemy than their enemy considers the conflict worth.
Okay, make the assumption that this effort, however abstract and idealistic, is worth it. A whole lot of people do not think so, but make that assumption. Well, George (Paine or Bush), what must we do?
... There are two ways for America to "win" the occupation of Iraq. We can either completely and decimate the insurgency, crushing their ability to fight, or we can "win the hearts and minds" of the insurgents, thus removing their will to fight.
So far it appears that the United States is attempting to adopt a mixed-bag strategy -- attempting to both destroy the insurgency and win the "hearts and minds" of ordinary Iraqi people.
We'll crush the bad guys and make the others love us and our way of life.
Is it possible? By these methods?
... I don't think it possible to completely destroy the insurgency.
The very nature of an insurgency such as that being conducted in Iraq is that the insurgents blend into the civilian population, using sympathy or fear (or both) to hide among innocents. The insurgents have been successful enough in hiding among the regular Iraqi population that the United States military has itself resorted to a campaign of intimidation and retaliation -- destroying the farms and, in some cases, houses of those who refuse to cooperate in the hunt for insurgents.
Well, yes. But it seem we must use "intimidation and retaliation". What's the option?
And finally, is it all worth it?
... What are the stakes for America in Iraq? The stakes are incredibly small compared to the Iraqi stakes. The entire invasion was predicated on the notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat -- imminent or otherwise -- to the United States of America. It has now been proven that Iraq either did not have such weapons or at least that those weapons never posed a direct threat to America. The American pain threshold in Iraq, therefore, is very different than the American pain threshold in Vietnam. It is certainly measured in thousands of troops rather than tens of thousands, and may even be measurable in the hundreds.
I think that at this point America is down to only one option for "winning" in Iraq: abandonment. It's time for the Bush Administration to say, "We made a mistake, we screwed up, and we can't win this war." It's time to leave.
I don't see that happening. We have our pride, if nothing else.
Topic: Iraq The Fallout Continues: Our Attempts to Offend Everyone Explained Previously, in Strange doings in Washington- an attempt to simultaneously severely punish the French for being such miserable fools, and to convince them to be good folks and help us out. No wonder they are puzzled by it all. and in Quick Follow-Up: Showing the world that there is a real price to pay for getting uppity.... I discussed the various reactions to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's directive barring Canadian, French, German and Russian companies from competing for the $18.6 billion of Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."
The question - is this good diplomacy?
What does one make of The Weekly Standard, the bible of the neoconservative movement, yesterday saying this was just plain dumb - and in a piece authored by their top theorists and senior editors - William Kristol and Robert Kagan?
... We hold no brief for the Chirac, Schroeder, or Putin governments. We are also very much in favor of finding ways to work more closely with other governments - such as those of Britain, Spain and Poland - who have courageously stood with us, and who hold the promise of continuing to be more helpful to us. We have even been critical of the Bush Administration for a certain lack of imagination in finding ways to work constructively with these friendly governments. But this particular effort by the Pentagon to reward friends and punish enemies is stupid, and should be abandoned.
A deviously smart American administration would have quietly distributed contracts for rebuilding Iraq as it saw fit, without any announced policy of discrimination. At the end of the day, it would be clear that opponents of American policy didn't fare too well in the bidding process. Message delivered, but with a certain subtlety.
A more clever American administration would have thrown a contract or two to a couple of those opponents, to a German firm, for instance, as a way of wooing at least the business sectors in a country where many businessmen do want to strengthen ties with the United States.
A truly wise American administration would have opened the bidding to all comers, regardless of their opposition to the war -- as a way of buying those countries into the Iraq effort, building a little goodwill for the future, and demonstrating to the world a little magnanimity.
But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing.
Bill! Bob! That's rather blunt.
Well, a lot of the buzz today is that this whole business is part of a clever master plan as the family fixer, James Baker, starts his effort to get those same nations to forgive Iraq those tens of billions in debts Iraq owes them.
The idea is this: France, Germany, Russia and Canada can get in on these contracts if they do one of two things.
They can either 1.) send troops to Iraq and say this country did exactly the right thing in invading, and eat crow, or 2.) they can forgive all of the billions they are owed and write it all off. Do one or the other and they can bid on the reconstruction contracts. Otherwise, go pound sand. This is hardball.
Some folks seem to be under the misimpression that there's some clever bargaining going on here. There's not.
Think about it. The whole pot is about $20 billion. Let's imagine the French and the Germans both got fabulously lucky and their companies managed to land contracts for a billion a piece. Does anyone think that Germany or France are going to write off billions of dollars in Iraqi loans or invite a backlash from their anti-Iraq war publics by sending in some troops all for the privilege of having the French or German versions of Halliburton or Bechtel make a few million dollars?
Of course not.
Ah, that's logical, or at least logical in terms of profit and loss.
The other buzz going around is that this Wolfowitz and Baker effort is not coordinated at all, but rather an internal power struggle with the hawks (Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld) making a statement to the doves (Powell and the rest of the State Department - those silly guys who like diplomacy and not lots of war). The directive on reconstruction bidding is then a shot across the bow by the unilateralists - "Don't even think about saying we can't do this ourselves! Never suggest diplomacy is better than war."
Paul Krugman explains that in the New York Times today.
The whole thing is quite detailed and worth a read. Here's the key:
... I think the administration's hard-liners are deliberately sabotaging reconciliation.
Surely this wasn't just about reserving contracts for administration cronies. Yes, Halliburton is profiteering in Iraq -- will apologists finally concede the point, now that a Pentagon audit finds overcharging? And reports suggest a scandal in Bechtel's vaunted school-repair program.
But I've always found claims that profiteering was the motive for the Iraq war - as opposed to a fringe benefit - as implausible as claims that the war was about fighting terrorism. There are deeper motives here.
Mr. Wolfowitz's official rationale for the contract policy is astonishingly cynical: "Limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international cooperation in Iraq and in future efforts" -- future efforts? -- and "should encourage the continued cooperation of coalition members." Translation: we can bribe other nations to send troops.
But I doubt whether even Mr. Wolfowitz believes that. The last year, from the failure to get U.N. approval for the war to the retreat over the steel tariff, has been one long lesson in the limits of U.S. economic leverage. Mr. Wolfowitz knows as well as the rest of us that allies who could really provide useful help won't be swayed by a few lucrative contracts.
If the contracts don't provide useful leverage, however, why torpedo a potential reconciliation between America and its allies? Perhaps because Mr. Wolfowitz's faction doesn't want such a reconciliation.
Damn, I think I hear a conspiracy theory coming! Yes, I do! Here it is!
In short, this week's diplomatic debacle probably reflects an internal power struggle, with hawks using the contracts issue as a way to prevent Republican grown-ups from regaining control of U.S. foreign policy.
And initial indications are that the ploy is working - that the hawks have, once again, managed to tap into Mr. Bush's fondness for moralistic, good-versus-evil formulations. "It's very simple," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "Our people risk their lives... Friendly coalition folks risk their lives... The contracting is going to reflect that."
In the end the Bush doctrine - based on delusions of grandeur about America's ability to dominate the world through force - will collapse. What we've just learned is how hard and dirty the doctrine's proponents will fight against the inevitable.
But then again, the problem could just be incompetence - not coordinating actions with a strategy the has all the various tactics working toward a single end. It seems the "single end" hasn't exactly been worked out yet.
Oh well. I guess just as the "real reason" we invaded Iraq is slowly being worked out, so our relationship with countries other than the UK will slowly be imagined and then articulated.
Topic: Iraq Why we fight: the real (latest) reason we elected to wage this war, examined by an old-line conservative. Does he misuse history? Things are getting really odd when you find a column by Pat Buchanan republished on a site called antiwar of all things. But there it sat yesterday.
These folks gave him a short bio: Patrick J. Buchanan was twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the Reform Party's candidate in 2000. He is also a founder and editor of the new magazine, The American Conservative. Now a commentator and columnist, he served three presidents in the White House, was a founding panelist of three national television shows, and is the author of seven books.
They did not note Pat is pretty ticked at the current "neoconservative" crowd running things now, nor note his history of xenophobic, isolationist views.
Anyway, Buchanan rips into Bush and his recent speeches on democracy - a November addresses at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington and at the Whitehall Palace in London on that recent trip to the UK.
Buchanan considers them and suggests Bush didn't even know what he was saying.
There's a hornet's nest out back. You and your buddy talk about what to do about it. He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You say, "No, don't do that. Let's think about another way to deal with the problem."
He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You plead, "Don't do this. Maybe we can smoke them out. Ask others what to do. Find some other solution."
He says, "I'm going to hit it with a stick." You reply, " No, really, let's--" He then hits the nest with a stick. Hornets go flying everywhere. They sting whomever they can find. As chaos ensues, your friend looks at you and says, "Hey, don't tell me that it was wrong to hit it with a stick. That would be a waste of time. Tell me what's your solution for dealing with the problem now."
Such a scenario is an imperfect analogy for the position war critics find themselves in these days. (Imperfect because a hornet's nest might pose a more immediate threat to the characters in this tale than Saddam Hussein, despite all his brutality, posed to the United States.)
In recent weeks, defenders of the war have dismissed criticism of the war as counterproductive at this point in time and have tried to turn the tables on the critics by demanding they provide a roadmap for victory and extrication. It's an old ruse: don't be so negative, give us solutions. But there is no reason why I-told-you-so critics should be expected to pull George W. Bush's bacon from the fire. In fact, there may be no way out.
It's not much fun to be gloomy about a war that Bush now says was fought to bring democracy to the repressed people of Iraq. (Well, he can't keep saying he went in to find weapons of mass destruction.) Yet Bush is stuck in a hole of his own digging. Pulling out of Iraq and leaving the Iraqis to their own devices - and to the mercy of the murderous Ba'athist thugs - would be an immoral act. But staying in Iraq as occupiers seems at this moment a problematic position as well.
I just spoke to my glum friend in his law offices on Wall Street. He says we're fucked. But everyone is gloomy around this time of year - Christmas/Hanukah - what with all the endless good cheer in the air everyone feels, everyone but you.
My friend keeps telling me I ought go see Bad Santa - the new film with Billie Bob Thornton as a dissolute, despairing, nasty anti-Santa. Perhaps I will.
As for David Corn and his observations? You can click on the link and get details. He ends with this:
How can one act reasonably or rationally in a situation borne of delusion? Some things broken cannot be repaired. Yes, moaning will not make things better (unless, of course, it leads to Bush's replacement). And non-delusional minds ought to try to find a path out of this mess. But it never should be forgotten that Bush waged an elective war based on a phony rationale, that he did not prepare for the easy-to-foresee aftermath, that he rushed in with his stick, and that the unleashed hornets are his fault.
So? Such things "never should be forgotten" and Bush should not be reelected? Perhaps that will come to be - but I doubt that.
But what about now and our guys in Iraq? What next?
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had just signed a directive barring French, German and Russian companies from competing for the $18.6 billion of Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "the protection of the essential security interests of the United States." The list, by the way, excluded Canada from the bidding also.
The question - is this good diplomacy?
Kevin Drum at CalPundit has a few things to say about the effectiveness of this gesture.
... this directive will have virtually no real effect at all and was designed solely to deliver a big public "fuck you" to these countries.
Question: does this ever work? TR said "speak softly and carry a big stick," and there's a reason for the first part of that advice. If you want someone to back down, you need to give them a face saving way of doing it.
Bottom line: what the hell was the point of this?
It's not likely to make any substantive difference, it's not likely to change anyone's behavior, and it makes us look bitter and nasty for no good reason.
But that's really it, isn't it? The Bushies like being bitter and nasty even if there's no point. Nixon felt the same way, I think, but at least he was smart enough to try and hide it.
The whole thing is good.
And this from the Toronto Star: Canada threatens to stop Iraq aid Countries that opposed war ineligible to take part in reconstruction effort Martin O'Hanlon, Canadian Press, December 10, 2003. 06:55 PM
OTTAWA (CP) - Paul Martin says he can't "fathom" an American decision to bar Canadian firms from bidding on lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq and will take up the matter with the U.S. ambassador.
Martin, who becomes prime minister Friday and is keen on fostering closer relations with the U.S., said the decision to exclude countries that opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq is flawed.
"I understand the importance of these kinds of contracts, but this shouldn't be just about who gets contracts, who gets business," he said Wednesday. "It ought to be what is the best thing for the people of Iraq."
The American directive, from deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, limits bidders for 26 lucrative contracts worth $18.6 billion (U.S.) to firms from the U.S., Iraq, their coalition partners and other countries that have sent troops to Iraq. Countries that did not sent troops would be eligible for subcontracting work.
Martin noted that Canada has committed nearly $300 million for reconstruction in Iraq and that Canadian troops in Afghanistan "are carrying a very, very heavy load" in the war on terrorism.
"I will certainly be discussing this with the ambassador and then we will see."
Deputy Prime Minister John Manley went a step further, suggesting Canada may cut its aid to Iraq. He said he doesn't understand how the government could justify contributing to the reconstruction of Iraq when it's being told it is not a partner in helping to fight terrorism.
"Our troops are there (in Afghanistan), they're at serious risk. The notion that somehow or other a country like Canada would somehow be penalized I don't think is very constructive."
Who else can we offend to show the world we're not wimps, and no one should mess with us?
But hold the presses....
Reuters is now reporting that the Pentagon is delaying the rollout of the tenders for Iraqi reconstruction contracts - the ones which barred bids from countries like Canada, Germany, France and Russia.
What? Are now going all wimpy?
I just watched Bill O'Reilly on Fox News argue with Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of Arizona and a fellow who has been among other things our ambassador to China (diplomatic chops). O'Reilly was practically turning purple ranting that we had to do this because, if we let them bid, the whole world would perceive us as weak. They'd just walk all over us from now on.
I guess being generous and inclusive is, in fact, a sign of weakness. That never occurred to me. One of my blind spots, no doubt.