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March 01, 2006

Stabbed in the back, eh?

Let me get this straight... We're losing the war in Iraq because of naysayers?

Jeff Goldstein writes:

One of the important points made in this excerpt (the entire piece is available to subscribers only) is that a goodly portion of our success or failure in Iraq has ultimately to do with how we react in terms of either lending our support or leveling our criticisms against the campaign.

And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war—one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war’s critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue. [**]

From my perspective, there comes a time when, having registered disagreement with the war, the war’s critics (and here I’m not talking about critics of individual strategical or tactical initiatives, but rather those who have been against the effort from the start) simply wait and—if things fail—rush to brag of their prescience and perspicuity. But in the meantime, actively working to undermine the effort by presenting our enemies with a rabidly partisan divided front (one of their chief aims, remember)—whether it be through suggestions that we are in Iraq “illegally”, or that the President “lied” to take us to war, or seemingly hoping, on a daily basis, that the whole thing devolve into a civil war—matters. And not just rhetorically.

Actually, we're losing the war because the noble goal of democratizing Iraq is not attainable by United States military power.

In one sense, Jeff's right. War critics will help end the war. If that's called "underiming", then I'm proud to be an underminer. It's good to undermine excuses for futile carnage.

When Jeff complains about the underminers, he's presupposing that the Iraq democratization project is still achievable--if it ever was. In that case, war supporters should get busy winning the hearts and minds of our own troops 72% of whom support prompt withdrawal, and the majority of the Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war.

When Jeff blames war critics for the Iraq debacle, he's confusing correlation and causation. Many of us opposed the war precisely because we foresaw a disaster. The war didn't go badly because we complained. We complained because we saw that it was going to go badly.

The administration never had a viable plan for "winning" the occupation. On the most charitable view, the Bush team naively assumed the absolute best-case scenario: that almost every single person in Iraq would welcome the American occupiers and peaceably submit to occupation until they embraced a self-sustaining democracy.

The Bush war plan simply didn't take into account the rather predictable consequences of overthrowing a government and sending a society spining into chaos: remnants of the old regime fought on, mutally hostile factions began jockeying for power, old relgious and ethnic tensions came to the fore, and foreign fighters flooded into an Arab country occupied by the United States.

One of the best arguments against toppling Saddam was that we had no reason to expect his successor would be any better, despite what Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi told our guillible leadership.

It should have been clear from the beginning that our job wasn't just to free Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but to impose a system of government on them. Forcing democracy on people who don't want it is an infintely harder task than facilitating democracy for those who do. It was obvious from the outset that if we unseated Saddam, the United States would either have to force democracy on a substantial segment of the Iraqi population, or accept an undemocratic successor.

There was simply no evidence that the US effort to democratize Iraq was likely to succeed. Obviously, a large absolute number of Iraqis do want democracy, at least as measured by voter turnout. However, it was crazy to ingore the forseeable fact that a subtantial minority of the population would stop at nothing to derail our efforts.

It's ironic that the same thumbsucking bedwetters who fear that Islamic immigration is undermining democracy in the West were so confident that the Iraqi people would readily embrace democracy at home. In one breath they say that Islam and democracy can't coexist, in the next they insist that a democratic Iraq is just around the corner. Critics of the war don't have to show that a democratic Iraq was absolute impossible from the outset, merely that it was so unlikely that the admistration was negligent to invade Iraq given the evidence at hand. In any sane moral calcuculs, you need an overwhelming probabitity of success before you start killing people for the sake of some principle, however important. (In fact, democratizing Iraq was an ad hoc justification for invading Iraq that the administration trotted out after the WMD and al Qaeda excuses had been publicly discredited. I will grant that the hope of establishing an Iraqi democracy might have been good reason for staying in Iraq while that hope was alive.)

This is a battle of wills. Jeff's incorrectly assumes that the will of the insurgents is weaker than our own and that the insurgency has less military endurance than we do. Obviously, the insurgents will never "prevail militarily" if that means kicking the occupiers out by conventional warfare. However, the insurgents can continute to do exactly what they're doing indefinitely. It's pure fantasy to think that if we just hang in there long enough, we'll eventually break them.

At this point the right wing will trot out arguments about how we simply can't give up the struggle because the insurgents are so evil. What started out as a rational calculus has become a crusade for them. The democratization of Iraq was desirable in the abstract becaue it would have improved the lives of the Iraqi people and perhaps improved our security situation. It's now abundantly clear that persuing this failed project is not futhering anyone's welfare or security. We lost and we spread terror in the proccess. If we stay in Iraq, we're just killing our own people to cover for our mistakes.

Jeff is typical of those who supported the war but can't accept that there are some worthy goals the United States can't achieve. Now, he's casting about for someone to blame. He can't accept that the facts have disenchanted Americans. So, he's casting about for traitors and backstabbers to blame for his war. Like a lot of war supporters he's bitter because his side lost the war and the war of ideas.

**Jeff alleges that some war critics are deliberately spreading misinformation to undermine the war. If so, that's terrible. However, it shouldn't be that much of a stretch for him to grant that the vast majority of war critics, like their counterparts on the other side, advocate their position in good faith. Nor should it pain him to admit that most arguments against the war based on a set of facts accepted by both sides. Jeff doesn't provide any evidence that the disputed or bad-faith claims have been especially effective in changing people's mind's about the war. More likely that public opinion is being swayed by the objective evidence of massive violence, mounting casualties, and deteriorating security--not alleged legal sophistry or obscure conspiracy theories. So, absent some further evidence, we can dismiss Jeff's insinuation that the American people have been tricked out of supporting the war. It just doesn't sound like insidious undermining to say that war critics persuaded the public of the merits of their case.

Update: More from Robert Farley, Roy Edroso and Glenn Greenwald.


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It's LOATH. LOATH is the adjective; LOATHE is the verb.

You're right. I'll fix that.

Oh, wait. That's not my "loathe." It could easily have been, though.

It must have been difficult for you to be forced to feel superior like that, 1984.

Maybe someday you'll recover?

Whew. Now to read the article. I like the idea of the dolchstoss, or stab in the back: advanced, I think, by General Erich Ludendorff, at the end of World War I, to blame Weimar Social Democrats for signing the burdensome Versailles Treaty, and ending the war (though Ludendorff himself fled the scene to avoid signing that very agreement). If we'd only hung in there, we would have won!

Actually, we're losing the war because the noble goal of democratizing Iraq is not attainable by United States military power.

Many of us opposed the war precisely because we foresaw a disaster. The war didn't go badly because we complained. We complained because we saw that it was going to go badly.

The administration never had a viable plan for "winning" the occupation. On the most charitable view, the Bush team naively assumed the absolute best-case scenario: that almost every single person in Iraq would welcome the American occupiers and peaceably submit to occupation until they embraced a self-sustaining democracy.

The Bush war plan simply didn't take into account the rather predictable consequences of overthrowing a government and sending a society spining into chaos: remnants of the old regime fought on, mutally hostile factions began jockeying for power, old relgious and ethnic tensions came to the fore, and foreign fighters flooded into an Arab country occupied by the United States.

ALL of which we predicted (although I never predicted that Iraq would become a front for a de facto terrorist insurgency by Iran against the US). Dismiss what this guy says; like the administration, he just isn't man enough to admit it when he's wrong, and so he "lies" (or, as we leftists would put it, lies) about it.

I confess, if it had been Lindsay's typo, or another leftist's typo, I wouldn't have called it out. Even when railing against some rightwinger's rationalizing, I don't usually cap on their typos unless it's actually humourous. One has only to look at the number of times "facism" has been mentioned, without comment from me, to have proof of that.

I've had to strangle the little copy editor in my brain to death to be able to live in Blogoland at all. The comments here used to be generally pretty coherent, but now even this is a terrifying grammatical wilderness.

Lindsey, very well said.

Oh dear, I misspelled your name. Well, you can be sure I won't be pestering you about grammar. I've also noticed that when I type I make mistakes of the kind that I never make when I write by hand -- confusing "it's" and "its" or writing "their" when I mean "there". I think it has to do with how fast I'm typing, which is a lot faster than I write.

If you are having problems recovering data from your HD, try sending it to

For a mere $2200 they were able to pull everything off of it and send it back to me on DVD-rom. Fantastic job, almost worth every penny to get precious data back.

Good point Neurotopia.

Re: this -

we're losing the war because the noble goal of democratizing Iraq is not attainable by United States military power.

I'll pick a little nit - I don't think there were any noble goals at work vis-a-vis the Bush admin.'s decision to invade Iraq. The invasion was conducted NOT for the purposes of giving Iraqis their country back, but rather in assuring US control over it - especially, of course, its oil fields, but also the opportunity for those sweet, sweet military bases. The admin.'s indifference to the will of the Iraqi people is easily demonstrated by the fact that the U.S. military is still there.

So I think it's a mistake to portray the war as a result of idealism gone wrong. Such a thing is possible, but it's just not what happened in this situation.

Didn't mean to cause tension with the typo-check. And I do notice that when blogging, I am also more prone to errors like the ones Barbara mentioned. Again, rest assured that if Jeff Goldstein were here, I wouldn't be attacking his typos, because it does seem petty. I would be attacking the gist of his statements, though, that's for sure.

Thanks Dadahead, unlike the loath/loathe nit, that was probably an important nit to pick. That's the problem with the "lying" (or, as leftists would put it, lying) that the administration did in drumming up a casus belli--although, oops, it wasn't to put a democracy in place, it was because of weapons of mass destruction--or because Saddam is a brutal dictator with earthen berms--or whatever bullshit they threw out that week. You get caught up in arguing the casus belli, when it was obviously a lie, and knowing the Bush family, obviously covering up some self-interest.

What I find most amusing is that not only was the debacle accurately predicted by many, so was the allegation of the stab in the back. Before the first soldier crossed the border, there were those predicting that when it all went to hell, the right wing would blame the anti war crowd for failure.

My own personal take on the real reason for the war was that our military presence in Saudi Arabia was destabilising and could not continue. Saudi Arabia exports much more oil than Iraq, and we could not tolerate the fall of the Saudi royal family. We did not trust Saddam Hussein (or Iran for that matter) enough to have no military presence in the area. It was seen as killing multiple birds with one stone to invade Iraq. We would leave Saudi Arabia, and we would be in a position to defend it from Iran and Iraq. It was a fine plan with that one tiny flaw of being unachievable.

I agree that the psychological motivations for the invasion had little to do with democracy or human rights. I also don't think that the invasion could have been justified morally in reference to human rights because there was such a low ex ante probability of success.

However, I think that there was something to be said for staying in Iraq for a while after we invaded. I think a lot of people who opposed the occupation genuinely supported our attempts to rebuild a democratic Iraq because we were already there and the alternative was so dire. But this point, it's absolutely clear that we're making things worse and we are therefore obliged to leave.

Moreover, if you click the links you'll not that the Goldstein's claims about anti-war arguments that are "objectively false" are, to put it mildly, less than convincing. Some of them are contestable, but he hasn't remotely made a case for bad faith.

Scott, I agree. (Btw, your gmail account has been bouncing back mail all day. Can you send me your alternate address?)

The first thing I would note is that the reason we went into Iraq was because of Iraq's "imminent threat". (Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.) Who's going to vote against that?

Since Colin Powell said, on 20-20, Sept 9, 2005, speaking about his U.N. speech in Feb 2003, that there were people who knew at the time that the intelligence couldn't be relied on, this "intelligence failure" was no accident. There has been no attempt by Bush to get to the bottom of these people's motive. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that the unitary President misled the people about Iraq's "imminent threat", because he had already decided to embark on nation building in Iraq. The 1st and 2nd Downing Street memos further point to a Bush desire to nation build in Iraq.

Now, what are the chances of all of these falsehoods being an accident.
(1.) Serin gas in Iraq
(2.) VX nerve agent in Iraq
(3.) Mustard gas in Iraq
(4.) Mobile bio-weapon labs
(5.) Obtaining uranium from Niger
(6.) 25000 liters of anthrax
(7.) 38000 liters of botulism
(8.) 29984 rockets

Then there was a few more whoppers along the way; that oil money would pay for the war; Saddam was aiding terrorist involved in Al-Quida; that our tanks would be met by cheering Iraqs tossing flowers. Then there was the lie that the U.S withdrew the resolution before the U.N. authorizing war because France would have vetoed it. If so, why not lay bare to the world that the UN would have supported the war, but for the French. Instead, like the French said, Bush withdrew that resolution because he didn't have majority support. We have the outing of Plame to defend The Leader's veracity.

It is ridiculous to expect people to support the mission, when they were lied to. Since Iraq wasn't an imminent threat, our national security interest were best served by maintaining the status quo because one thing was for sure - Iraq was never going to be aligned with Iran under Saddam. We're in the jam we're in because this war was never debated on the risks/rewards of nation building, because our Unitary Executive has already decided on nation building. I was watching a report today that CIA estimates of the insurgency were dismissed because they conflicted with the Unitary Executive's view. The most stark example was The Leader's indignation that we would dare to question why, if reports are true that Al-Qaida can operate freer in UAE than most other countries, why is it that national security isn't compromised by this deal.

We have two problems; one is the neo-con plan of benevolent world hegemony, and the other problem is this concept of the unitary executive replacing the 3 co-equal branches of government. The latter problem directly threatens our constitutional form of government and hence, our democracy.
Unitary Executive = Der Führer

Hey, I thought the neocons were the Tough Guys. Weren't they the ones that dared to "think the unthinkable" during the cold war? Weren't they the ones who could handle the bitter truths of realpolitik? The ones who actually had the guts to stare ugly reality right in the eye?

Now they've gone all Pollyanna Pangloss on us. If we just wish hard enough, if we just send out pure, positive peace vibes, everything will be cool. If we truly believe in fairies and clap our hands, Tinkerbelle Bush will sprinkle democracy dust all over the Middle East.

Oh, but wait. I forgot. They're the same ones that said Vietnam was lost by the hand-wringing, negativist, peace-now pansies who had no faith in peace through TNT.

you can go as far back as thucydides to find military misadventures being ascribed to "lack of support back home" when he was writing about the sicilian catastrophe and blaming it on the athenians back home. in 1966 i was a student of the navy's language school on treasure island in san francisco bay. i was studying french and vietnamese (i kinda deduced where my next orders were going to be from that). while out on the town, whenever i saw people demonstrating against the war i would give them hearty and loud support. i figured they represeted my best chance for a live return. while i ended up staying there for a long time and finally getting the 3 heart rule applied to me against my own wishes. it was american public opinion that brought our troops home. not policy in washington, not secret negotiations, not a grand sweeping strategy that turned any tides, just the american public being tired of the lies, and senseless expenditure of blood and treasure and saying to the gov't loudly and rudely "enough! quit already! bring the troops home!" until they had no choice but to comply. i am refusing to vote for anyone in the next election who is not for immediate withdrawal. i am also doing my small best for the poor kids over there by holding a bake sale through "bake sales for body armor." enuf is enuf.

The use of a nice clear post like this for lazy me is I can pass this on to some of my less rabid pro-war friends. The arguing is solid.

We don't have to critisize Bush any more... really! Its much more fun to watch the rethugs eat their own! The question now is not should we stay, if Bartlett's numbers are correct, but how long can we afford to stay.

"Having plunged us into an unnecessary war, Bush now confronts the real possibility of strategic defeat and a failed presidency. His victory in Iraq, like the wars of Wilson and FDR, has turned to ashes in our mouths. And like Truman's war in Korea and Kennedy's war in Vietnam, Bush's war has left America divided and her people regretting he ever led us in. But unlike the world wars, Korea and Vietnam, Bush cannot claim the enemy attacked us and we had no choice. Iraq is Bush's war. Isolationists had nothing to do with it. To a man and woman, they opposed it."

- Pat Buchanan

"I think there's a difference between saying somebody is not a conservative and saying they're a liberal. I believe it was Bill Buckley who said George Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative. He's not one of us, basically.

His conservatism is the conservatism of the guy who says, you know, like Archie Bunker, the good old days and why is everything, you know, not working the way it used to? It's not borne out of thought or reason or analysis...

"I did a calculation the other day based on officially—official Treasury Department data that showed that in the first four years of the Bush administration, our national debt, not just what we call the national debt, but all of the indebtedness—had increased by $20 trillion under this president."

- Bruce Bartlett

From his new book...

“Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

Bartlett has been a mainstream conservative for 30 years and served in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses. He is an economist and writes for the WSJ and has been a member of the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute.

Perhaps nobody has dared the worst thought of all. Iraq was to be torn apart and there was no plan - it was of no consequence if Humpty Dumpty could be put back together again. It was the terrible example of blind U.S. anger and angst being merrily led down the path of wanton destruction. Let all beware ! The nation that suffered so terribly in its own civil war had no compunction about inflicting another in Vietnam and nothing had changed re: Iraq. All was for reasons celebrating freedom from reason and constraint. Profit.
Of course such an analysis is insane. That doesn't mean it hasn't accounted for all the facts as neatly as any other theory.

Actually Pearl wrote a paper in the mid 90's advocating destabilization of all middle eastern countries governemts. Basically it was a Neocons dream... no governments... just corporations.

Rasputin, given the nature of the Middle East's disintegration since the Ottoman Empire fell--"Nasserism!" "United Arab Republic!" "pan-Arabism! (Ba'athism) All Arabs, Christian and Muslim, should unite!"--"no, Islamism! All muslims should unite!" "And exclude the Arab Christians?" "Um, sure! I guess! If it works!"--the idea of destabilizing the Middle Eastern governments seems almost redundant.

>no governments... just corporations.

When I saw Rollerball and Network, I thought: can that be? Rollerball: "The Corporate Wars--they were nasty, whoo!" Network: "The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back... There are no Arabs!... There is no America. There is no Democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T and T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today."

We would leave Saudi Arabia, and we would be in a position to defend it from Iran and Iraq. It was a fine plan with that one tiny flaw of being unachievable.

As usual, I find Njorl's post thoughtful.

I read an article in the Guardian last year wherein an economist who used to work for the British government mentioned that, coincidentally, Iraq began pricing its oil in Euros instead of Dollars, and that Iran threatened to do the same thing, just before--again, coincidentally--Paul Wolfowitz began talking about invading Iraq again (this was about a year before 9/11, I think, so had nothing to do with 9/11). His idea was that Iraq and Iran's pricing their oil in Euros would have catastrophic effects on the Dollar's worth (presently, about half of the world's transactions are conducted in the US dollar, making our financial situation much more tenable then it would be otherwise), that our rulers--who, incidentally own quite a few Dollars--moved to quash it by putting Iraq and Iran on the Axis of Evil. I can think of less plausible reasons for going to war than to save the Dollar--hell, if they'd been honest about that, they might even have had less opposition from everyday Americans. Of course, the Europeans wouldn't have been on board, but--how about that! The European countries that weren't on board were those backing the Euro.

There are holes in this idea, of course: the strong Euro is causing similar problems to the strong Dollar's problems (i.e., it's harder to sell exports if your currency is worth too much, because it's too expensive for others to buy them). But it is worth looking at.

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