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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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Comments

That Richard Pearl certainly is a scary fellow. The mafioso bags under his glaring eyes...

It's like the guy who says he's going to fix your computer with a hammer. Like the Army, a hammer is a blunt instrument that has its appropriate uses. And also, if you're not careful, you're liable to smash your thumb.

But back to the guy with the hammer. Now you're pleading with him that you just want your HD swapped out, and shouldn't he be using one of those torx thingies, but he says "Well, you fix computers with the tools you have, not the tools you wish you had."

And after he's taken several good whacks with the hammer, and you're begging to get your computer back so you can take it to an expert to see if ANYTHING can be salvaged, he says "Well, that repair job didn't go quite as well as expected, here let me put your computer back together for you. Now where did I put that hammer...."

And THEN, he has the nerve to blame his poor computer fixing skills on YOU, becase you kept undermining him when you tried to explain that maybe the hammer wasn't the best approach.

1984... only because it's thematic...

The name is spelled "Perle."

Rasputin--

It looks to me like Buchanan and Bartlett are rewriting history. Attacked in Vietnam? Can Buchanan really believe this? We weren't attacked in Korea either, though we did go to enforce a U.N. resolution.

I've heard a lot about Bartlett's book, and how W. is unlike Reagan, but I can't think of a difference. Reagan ran up deficits with upper-income tax cuts and a sharply increasing defense budget. The deficits grew to threaten the economic health of the country. And like Bush, he seemed quite eager to send soldiers into any conflict available, provided he thought that the enemy would be virtuallly defenseless.

Reagan ignored the law, attacked the environment, and shredded the safety net. About the only real difference I can think of is the fact that Reagan had to deal with Democrats in congress, who forced Reagan to constrain himself to some extent.

Bartlett attacks Bush not because he is unlike Reagan, but because he is too similar to Reagan. Bartlett pushed for Bush's upper income tax cuts, and has called on him to replace the lost revenue with a national sales tax. Reagan also slashed taxes on the wealthy, and never introduced a sales tax.

Bartlett attacks Bush for overspending, but his spending mirrors Reagan's. They both cut social services, education, etc., and spent more on defense. The fact that it hasn't worked out has caused Bartlett to present a false picture of Reagan, so that he can honor his hero while takiing Bush to task.

Judas Priest, 1984, what the hell are you talking about? The Middle East is unstable? Do tell.

Actually, do tell us who drew the damned borders and when they did it. (Hint: confine your search to 1918-1922 and "Great Britain" for greater success.)

In case anyone wants to see some actual pictures of German soldiers with daggers in their back, here are a couple links from the original Dolchstoßlegende:

http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/weimar/innenpolitik/dolchstoss/

http://st-franziskus.region-kaiserslautern.de/projekte/projst/bild13.html

Ah, crap. Forgot the tags. Damn this newfangled Internets thing.

Deutsches">http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/weimar/innenpolitik/dolchstoss/">Deutsches Historisches Museum page (German)

Snappy">http://st-franziskus.region-kaiserslautern.de/projekte/projst/bild13.html">Snappy red/black poster from the DNVP in 1924.

>Judas Priest, 1984, what the hell are you talking about? The Middle East is unstable? Do tell.

Um, that was kind of my point to Rasputin...

Jesus, between you, and Eli telling me he's superior to me because he doesn't act as superior as I do...

(kidding Eli, KIDDING...)

Yes, Great Britain did indeed redraw the maps of the middle east in a way that was often nonsensical. Their rule there was also administered in a very insensitive way.

However, though Britain and Russia meddled quite a bit in the middle east AFTER the Ottoman Empire lost power there, they are in no way the ones primarily responsible for that disintegration. The Ottoman Empire, which for many centuries rather harmoniously united this very disparate group of ethnicities and religions, disintegrated loooooong before the 1800s, when Britain really started meddling there, and I would say it had much to do with the unworkability of the Ottoman financial system, especially after their currency was devalued, and with the decrepitude of their military.

Spanish silver from North America, the Portuguese rounding of the horn of Africa for another trade route to rival Turkey's, and the fossilized Ottoman cavalry and Janissaries had more to do with the Ottoman Empire's dissolution than the British, the Russians, or Napoleon did. And that dissolution's sudden though long-predicted coming, at the end of the First World War, was impossible for even the most intelligent people to manage sensibly, along with a similar dissolution of Austria-Hungary mind you, even if the British of that time had been sensitive. The British couldn't have made it an ordered dissolution; that's the nature of huge empires like Rome's, Ottoman Turkey's, or the British Empire's.

And, into such chaos, it's good to be very, very careful and choose your battles. The battle most of us chose was the one against Osama bin Laden, the perpetrator of 9/11, not against Saddam Hussein.

"Forcing democracy on people who don't want it is an infintely harder task than facilitating democracy for those who do. "

Isn't that a dangerous thing to say? I mean, can anyone champion a liberal agenda without first assuming that democracy is a universal good craved by all peoples? When you claim that a people don't want democracy, what exactly do you mean? Don't people everywhere want to be safe from torture, or from unreasonable searches? Are you saying that the women don't want basic civil rights protections, say for instance, protection against domestic violence?

I understand your point that Bush Administration never intended to bring real democracy to Iraq, but surely the Iraqi people want real democracy, yes? Don't people everywhere want that?

"I've heard a lot about Bartlett's book, and how W. is unlike Reagan, but I can't think of a difference."

Reagan seems to have really believed his free-market rhetoric. I can believe that Reagan truly believed that "the creation of wealth is an adventure of the mind." I can not easily imagine George Bush uttering these words, or if his advisors forced him to speak them, I can't imagine that he'd believe the words or even understand them. Nor would he care. Bush doesn't give a damn about the creation of wealth, he cares about diverting existing resources to his friends.

Lawrence, I wonder whether those human rights are really part and parcel of representative democracy, or of liberal democracy. People have had relatively harmonious, civil societies without having representation; on the other hand, although America arguably has representative democracy--VERY arguably, considering that (again arguably) neither George Bush nor John Kerry probably gives much of a fuck what you or I want--and even though we actually have a piece of paper guaranteeing us protection against unreasonable search and seizure, it's just a piece of paper unless it's honored. I wonder what mechanisms can possibly protect us against breach of contract, when our Constitution is the contract.

To tell you the truth, and I'm a dyed-in-the-wool-cardigan ultra-liberal and anti-fascist, the example of the dolchstoss myth bothers me quite a bit in this context. Three forms of government, Communism, liberal democracy, and dictatorial fascism, fight it out. Fascism's disregard for human rights, and its monstrous policies of murder and torture, stand as a lasting rebuke to it; likewise Communism, guilty of the same abuses. The liberal democracies of the world have yet to match these ghastly extremes of murder and torture, though we did devil's deals with mass-murdering, torturing Communists like Stalin, and mass-murdering, torturing fascists like Pinochet.

However, it bothers me deeply that Hitler was elected Chancellor in a liberal, parliamentary democracy, and also appointed President in accordance with the laws of that liberal democracy. Is that not a rebuke to the idea of representative, liberal democracy?

Our own system, though different from a parliamentary, multiparty, liberal democracy, seems to contain the seeds of its own downfall. One of the main problems with it is that the government must be transparent in order to be answerable to the people; yet no government will ever be completely transparent. Secrecy is inevitable; yet secrecy is always abused.

Though I do believe Bush to be just as mercenary as you say, and really as spectacularly unconcerned with the common weal as any president who's held that office. I shudder to think what would have happened if Bush had faced down a tense, nuclear standoff like Reagan had with the Russians.

Should also clarify: my post above states that the Ottoman Empire's disintegration had its roots loooong before the British or the Russians began meddling in the Mid-east, but then refers to

>that dissolution's sudden though long-predicted coming, at the end of the First World War

That sounds confusing. Forgive me. Hopefully the point is clear anyway, but what I'm saying is that Middle-east Muslim disunity is not the fault of Britain. Britain, like America and Russia, exacerbated it and exploited it (as, often, Nasser and other leaders of Muslim countries exploited the Cold War Soviet Union and USA for their own ends). But I think the historical record of the region plainly shows the Muslim Mid-east uniting in relative harmony under the Ottoman Turks, and disintegrating once again into disharmony largely because of the inherent flaws in the Ottoman armed forces' recruitment systems, and in their state financial system, not because of British or other European meddling, though WW I probably put the nail into the coffin of the harmonious Middle East. They had a system that worked for a while, and eventually didn't.

One difference between Reagan and Bush...

When Japanese car manufacturers wanted to export to the US, Reagan said fine, but the cars must be assembled here in the US to protect the American worker. Those regulations are in effect today.

Bush... not only doesn't care about American workers, whether its manufacturing or computer software writing or chip manufacturing... he actively encourages the export of American jobs.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't force democracy on the Iraqi people out of relativism. Theocracy and authoritarian government are wrong, no matter what culture imposes them. In the abstract, I think that that relatively free countries like ours have a responsibility to help spread democracy and human rights (usually by peaceful means, but potentially through military action). However, it wasn't realistic to think that we could force Iraq to become democratic through invasion and occupation.

A lot of pro-war types didn't understand the task before us. We weren't liberating a pre-existing democracy with intact institutions. We were overthrowing a government and establishing a new one by force. It's hard enough to install an authoritarian government in a conquered territory. We ostensibly wanted to do something even more difficult--installing a system of goverment that doesn't work unless it's perceived to be legitimate.

Your post is largely correct, but utterly useless because Goldstein and the others have absoultely no interest in reasoned discourse. You say "When Jeff blames war critics for the Iraq debacle, he's confusing correlation and causation." Wrong, he has no interest in either, he is just saying whatever in his mind makes him sound right. You also write "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." Ohhh, that's way too much of a stretch, because it would require him to actually concede something factual, which he never, ever, ever does. Someone once wrote that for the right wing bloggers, the substance of what they're saying is irrelevant, they just want to string words together in something that sounds like a point that they can repeat ad nauseum. You are dealing with irrational people here, stop using logic.

I think Bartlett had it right when he talked about Bush and his cult followers as well...


"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..."

They're not interested in accountability or truth, only that the rightwing is right, but ultimately they are neither!

"The liberal democracies of the world have yet to match these ghastly extremes of murder and torture"

Well, even that is somewhat questionable. The number of slaves who died crossing the Atlantic is roughly estimated at 3 million. The number of Indians, including women and children, slaughtered in genocidal wars of expansion and internment on unlivable land is roughly estimated at anywhere from two million to eight milllion. Hitler's a bad guy becuase he killed 6 million Jews? What then do we say about killing roughly the same number of blacks and Indians?

Just a thought that I'm wrestling with. I agree with you that the liberal democracies are better than fascist or communist governments. But this has something to do with their ability at self-improvement, rather than in their innocence when it comes to slaughter.

"We weren't liberating a pre-existing democracy with intact institutions. We were overthrowing a government and establishing a new one by force. It's hard enough to install an authoritarian government in a conquered territory."

Interesting. The sense here is that democracy is harder to establish than an authoritarian government. Which may be true, though this leaves me curioius about why it might be true. Metaphorically, this is saying democracy is like eating a healthy diet, something universally craved but rarely achieved.

"However, it wasn't realistic to think that we could force Iraq to become democratic through invasion and occupation."

So democracy can only come about through internal revolution, it can not be engineered by outside forces? It's an interesting research question. In some alternate universe I'd have enough time this year to research this question and try to figure out what makes external intervention so different from internal intervention. I suppose I can imagine social units with strong elites that might be especially resistant to outside force - the family, especially, and the dominating role of the husband. But even there, I think, outside pressure has brought considerable change, at least sometimes.

Lawrence, you've got me bang to rights. I forgot--and what a thing to forget--about our slaughter of the Native American, which Hitler is said to have noted as proof that the world wouldn't care about the slaughter of the Jews. This is why we need peer review.

"forgot--and what a thing to forget--about our slaughter of the Native American, which Hitler is said to have noted as proof that the world wouldn't care about the slaughter of the Jews."

1984... wasn't that the 3.4 million Armenians who were massacred by the Turks? Hitler did speak of it as a rationale'.

So democracy can only come about through internal revolution, it can not be engineered by outside forces?

Interesting question. Revolutions have credible leaders. Democracies seem to flourish when people have faith in their government and its institutions. Credible revolutionary leaders help ease the transition.

But what about Germany and Japan? In both cases the people were exhausted by war and were rethinking their nationalistic aspirations for empire. They did, both as states and as individuals, surrender.

Robert Fisk's latest book "The Great War for Civilization" has an excellent discussion of the Armenian genocide, including its influence on the Nazi Holocaust.

Rasputin, in the version I heard, it was both--"the American Indian, the Armenians in Turkey, nobody remembers them now." But I don't remember where I heard it, so it could well be an urban myth for all I know.

Google provided the following: "Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination - by starvation and uneven combat - of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity." P. 202, "Adolph Hitler" by John Toland

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