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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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Reduced to googling (shame)

"The half-hearted reaction of the world's great powers to the plight of the Armenians was duly noted by the young German politician Adolf Hitler. After achieving total power in Germany, Hitler decided to conquer Poland in 1939 and told his generals: "Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my 'Death's Head Units' with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?"

If you truly believe that any event of the scale and national significance of the Iraq war is being conducted in a manner that is detrimental to the wellbeing of America, or is so by its very nature, then not only are you obligated to bring about its end, but, by doing so, by undermining it, you are nescessarily strengthening the nation and, of course, acting in a most patriotic manner.

How's that for a run-on sentence?

Not that it makes a heck of a lot of difference, but there are lots of scholarly treatises on it, but usually in pdf format:

Naysayers? Does Al Qaeda know about this Naysayers technology? Cause it's bad enough to be loosing this War in Iraq because of Naysayers, but the thought of Al Qaeda getting their hands on it is too much to bear.

Thanks Rasputin.

>Does Al Qaeda know about this Naysayers technology?

Backspace, you probably would have enjoyed the recent roasting of Rumsfeld (sorry for all the alliteration) in The Economist. Rumsfeld had given a speech mentioning that the other side had been better at communicating than we had. The Economist rightly pointed out the ridiculousness of the idea that Al Qaeda, living in caves and afraid to use cellphones, had somehow waged a more effective propaganda campaign than the government of the nation with the most cutting-edge technology in all the world.

As many have observed, Bush & Co. are victims of their own arrogance. I really don't think they could imagine losing or screwing up in Iraq--after all, they don't make mistakes! (Just ask Dubya.) They went off quite half-cocked, believing their own news releases, and I don't think to this day they understand what happened. They probably think it was all part of a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy to Undermine and Destroy America. It would be sad if it weren't so scary...these wingnuts have access to nuclear weapons...

Lindsay, thanks for the Robert Fisk recommendation. I have to read that.

I think that there was potential for democracy in Iraq, and I would have been more willing to listen to people like Hitchens if I'd thought for a minute that the Bush administration was serious about pursuing that goal.

But when I thought about the likely outcome of true democracy in Iraq, I realized that it couldn't possibly be what they wanted. Nationalized oil traded in euros, economic and diplomatic ties with Iran, tilting more toward Europe than toward the U.S., open hostility toward Israel--could these have been seen as acceptable outcomes by Cheneyco? The fact that these would be the most likely fruits of democracy tells me that democracy was never the goal.

In Bush Co-Cheney-Rumsfeld land the collapse of Iraq into chaos may not be defeat...

I haven't read all of Perle's original 1996 paper, "Clean Break", but...

Cheney Behind New
Mideast War Drive:
Return of `Clean Break'
by Jeffrey Steinberg

"With very little fanfare, in September David Wurmser moved over from the State Department office of arms control chief and leading war-party agitator John Bolton, to the Old Executive Office Building, working directly under Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Wurmser's move was highly significant, given that the former American Enterprise Institute and Washington Institute for Near East Policy neo-conservatives was one of the primary authors of the now-infamous 1996 "A Clean Break" document, which spelled out the current joint Mideast war strategy of the Ariel Sharon government in Israel and the Cheney cabal inside the Bush Administration in the United States."

"The short policy memo, which Netanyahu, and his successor-Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, totally adopted as the core strategy of their administrations, spelled out a four-pronged attack on the peace process and the entire Arab world. It has become a self-evident truth that, since the Bush "43" and Sharon governments came into power simultaneously in early 2001, "A Clean Break" has been the guiding strategic doctrine of both—particularly following the irregular warfare attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Perle-Wurmser policy document demanded: 1) Destroy Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, blaming them for every act of Palestinian terrorism, including the attacks from Hamas, an organization which Sharon had helped launch during his early 1980s tenure as Minister of Defense. 2) Induce the United States to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. 3) Launch war against Syria after Saddam's regime is disposed of, including striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and targets in Syria proper. 4) Parlay the overthrow of the Ba'athist regimes in Baghdad and Damascus into the "democratization" of the entire Arab world, including through further military actions against Iran, Saudi Arabia, and "the ultimate prize," Egypt (see Documentation following for the "Clean Break" report)."

A Disturbing Document, By Dr. James Zogby

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