False Choices in Iraq II Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Jon, in yet another example for those who think that we here at QandO march in intellectual lockstep, attempts to rebut my argument in the previous post...before I even made it. He looks at the future of Iraq, and writes:
And if things break down? That's their problem. "Well," we'll say, "we gave it our best shot, but the poor buggers mucked it up. Tally ho, and all that. It doesn't mean the war was a bad idea!"
Of course, that's exactly wrong. If we do not achieve our objectives, then we have lost the war. It's that simple.
Well, no, it isn't actually.
Despite the fact that slavery was abolished, the Reconstruction of the South did not, in fact, proceed in such a way as to make the former slaves equal before the law. Indeed, blacks had second class status when it came to their civil rights until well into the 1960s. The Reconstruction was abruptly ended after the election of 1876, in which a deal was made that, if Southerners did not contest the minority election of Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republicans would end Reconstruction. Thus began nearly a century of Jim Crow. Reconstruction was a failure. Did we, then, lose the Civil War?
One of the primary aims of World War II was to liberate the countries of Europe from Nazi tyranny, so that they could enjoy, once again, an independent national life. For the 16 nations that eventually made up the Warsaw Pact, they merely traded one tyranny for another, equally rapacious one. One of our primary war aims for eastern Europe were clearly unrealized. Did we lose WWII?
I can think of almost no case in modern history, with the exception of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and World War I, in which all of the war aims of the victors were completely realized without genocidal treatment of the vanquished, a la the last Punic War. Absent the kind of ruthlessness the Romans commonly displayed, it is nearly impossible to achieve all of one's war aims.
At the end of the day, the score is:
* Destroy Saddam's WMDs: No. We merely discovered he didn't have them.
We did not know that at the time however, and even if we were wrong, the Ba'athist regime there was clearly ready to begin resumption of those weapons when they felt sufficient heat had been dissipated. The Oil For Food program and associated sanctions were clearly on their way out. Our primary war aim was to eliminate the threat, present and future, of Saddam Hussein to produce or use those weapons. By any measure that aim has been accomplished for the foreseeable future, something that could not, in fact, be said if Mr. Hussein was still in power.
* End the brutal Saddam regime: Yes. But will it be replaced with something better? Considering the intractable disputes between Sunnis and Shiites and the private militia's that are handling them, it may not be.
At the end of the day, that's not our problem. No one has proposed staying in Iraq indefinitely to prevent Sunni/Shiite disputes in perpetuity. That is not, and never has been, an outcome that we control. The best we can do is give them an acceptably free and democratic government before we leave.
* End Iraq's support for terrorism: Maybe. Again, we'll see.
At the moment, we've certainly ended the Iraqi government's meddling in international terrorism. If, at some time in the future, some Iraqi government begins supporting it again, well, that's something we'll have to deal with when the subject comes up. Again, unless you posit an unending occupation of Iraq, that is something else we have no ultimate control over.
* Create a sustainable, non-Islamist democracy in the Middle East? Not yet.
The problem here is the word "sustainable". What does that mean? The Weimar Republic was "sustainable", and yet, in the end, the Germans made the choice not to sustain it. If we leave and the Iraqi government lasts in its present form for 5 years, was it sustainable? Ten years? What if, after twenty years, it reverts back to a Ba'athist dictatorship? Was it sustainable? That's, again, not really an outcome we control.
All of the above goals were desired outcomes, but I wouldn't say that they were all primary war aims.
I would phrase our primary war aims thusly:
Eliminate the Ba'athist Regime of Saddam Hussein.
Eliminate any present or future threat from Iraqi WMDs.
Beyond that, I would frame our secondary war aims as:
Assist the Iraqis in creating a democratic government.
Assist the Iraqis in creating a security regime competent to defend the country against both internal and external threats.
I would say that our primary war aims have been accomplished. Whether we can ultimately accomplish our secondary aims remains an open question, although despite setbacks, much progress has been made.
What we can do to help bolster this progress, is to continue to train Iraqi security forces, so that they can begin taking over the primary responsibility for providing security. If they can do so, that will go a long way towards making the Iraqi government viable over time.
Admittedly, that process will, because of mistakes made by the Bush Administration, especially during 2004—which I criticized at the time, as a search of our archives will show—be harder to maintain. Our handling of Fallujah was a debacle. Moqtada al-Sadr is, for some unexplainable reason, still drawing breath. Far too little effort was made to disarm the militias who are making life difficult for the Iraqi government. Now, the onus will fall on the Iraqis to try and demilitarize their society, something which will undoubtedly be difficult, and which should've been done, by us, in 2003-2004.
That makes achieving our secondary aims more problematic. But, if the Iraqis can take over the security functions, and American troops can begin fading out of the limelight into a support and training role, much of the public resentment towards America in Iraq may start to fade, as people see Iraqis, and not Americans patrolling the streets. And Iraqis who don't care much if Americans are being killed, may find themselves less tolerant of militants who can no longer argue that their depredations are aimed at a foreign invader.
But as Jon writes:
We absolutely must not abandon Iraq as we did Vietnam, grasping defeat from the jaws of victory.
On this, we agree completely.
The question remains, however, how do we get from where we are now, to accomplishing our secondary aims—at least for some reasonable amount of time after we leave? So far, the Bush Administration hasn't publicly set out a detailed plan for what the end-game in Iraq should be. (I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that whatever the end game will be, the Bush Administration will try to play it out in some fashion that will coincide fortuitously with the 2008 presidential election.)
When can we expect the ISF to take over security responsibilities? How will that affect the level of American presence in country? On what dates do we expect other milestone accomplishments to occur, after which we can begin reducing our forces there? What will be the requirements for continuing logistical and financial support for the Iraqi government? What level of assistance—political and military—will the Iraqis require in shutting down the militias? What plans, if any, exist to reposition our troops out of the Green Zone and into the hinterlands to cut off Iran's support of the militias once the ISF takes control of security? What milestone accomplishments must take place before our military role shifts from combat and combat support to military advice and assistance?
I'm sure that someone, somewhere in the Bush Administration has painstakingly mapped out the answers to these and other questions.
One final thought.
Longtime readers know that, as far as the Democracy project in Iraq goes, I have always been of the opinion that, while a lasting Iraqi Democracy might be nice, and worth a try to accomplish, the Iraqis, not the Americans, will be the ones who ultimately determine its success.
So, while we are perfectly correct in asserting that the spread of liberal, democratic governance is a good thing, we are limited in our ability to impose it, absent certain conditions.
Obviously, it can be done. We did it in Germany and Japan. But by the time we got around to doing it, we had completely devastated those two countries. We subjected their citizens to a horror that would've found impossible to comprehend at the war's outset. We blasted huge portions of those countries to charred and smoking rubble. We killed their husbands, wives, and children in job lots. On the Soviet side, the REMFs engaged in wholesale rapine and plunder as they marched west.
The message to the former Axis countries was abundantly clear: This is defeat. Avoid it.
No experience among Iraqis was remotely like what the citizens of the Axis countries experienced. This, I think, goes some way towards explaining why the process of trying to build a more democratic society has been more difficult than originally envisioned. It is one thing to know, intellectually, that you lost. It is quite another to physically experience that loss. The mental attitudes that result from those two experiences seem to me to be likely to lead to far different responses to the victors in the aftermath.
If so, then this also may explain why some of the failures of the Bush Administration were more damaging than they would otherwise have been.
The Civil War wasn’t fought to end slavery or to achieve equality. Lincoln said so himself:
As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing" as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
— Abraham Lincoln
The Civil War was fought to restore "national authority" as Lincoln put it.
The rest of your argument about Jim Crow etc. is based on a false premise.
Nicolai, the aim of the Civil War was to preserve to the federal government those aspects of sovereignty over the south granted to the federal government in the constitution. A corallary to that was that the political power of the group of people who brought it into question—the southern agricultural oiligarchs—that the politcal power of that group would be destroyed.
In the end there was a compromise, instead that group would act regionally within the constitution, but maintain their control of the south. They would cease their opposition to the acquisition of power by the industrialists of the north, who gained pre-eminence in the federal government. The industrialists ultimate goal of freeing the federal government from the bounds of the constitution was realized in the New Deal era, they just weren’t in charge of it by then. They imagined a mercantilist’s paradise, and got a socialist one.
Ultimately it was a compromise which destroyed the federal government as the Founders conceived of it and replaced it with an almost unitary nation power.
An aside, despite his ties to the railroads which the DiLorenzo worshipping idiots at LewRockwell.com make so much of, there is no evidence that Lincon would have approved of the evolution which 1876 brought or led to.
When can we expect the ISF to take over security responsibilities? How will that affect the level of American presence in country? On what dates do we expect other milestone accomplishments to occur, after which we can begin reducing our forces there? What will be the requirements for continuing logistical and financial support for the Iraqi government? What level of assistance—political and military—will the Iraqis require in shutting down the militias? What plans, if any, exist to reposition our troops out of the Green Zone and into the hinterlands to cut off Iran’s support of the militias once the ISF takes control of security? What milestone accomplishments must take place before our military role shifts from combat and combat support to military advice and assistance?
I’m sure that someone, somewhere in the Bush Administration has painstakingly mapped out the answers to these and other questions.
Is your concluding question sarcastic? The Bush Administration’s track record in prosecuting the Iraq War hardly inspires confidence in its planning capabilities.
1) I don’t think you can separate the invasion from the occupation, the democratization argument from the rationale for war, or our ability to achieve it in the sustainable long term from the win/lose calculation. It’s fine (and accurate) to say that the Iraqis are responsible for their ultimate success, but that’s something that must be taken into account in deciding whether the Iraq war was a good idea.
If we weren’t ready to transition into occupation — we very clearly were not — and didn’t have the ability to shape the future Iraqi government past the innate sectarian problems, then we should have been much more wary going into the war.
2) I simply do not believe that WWII provides a uniformly useful template for future conflicts, or for the Iraq war in particular. It has broad themes that are generally true, but not every enemy is Hitler, and not every occupation follows WWII. (and, of course, Japan and Germany were internally very different from Iraq)
3) I’d like to think this will be true, but...
But, if the Iraqis can take over the security functions, and American troops can begin fading out of the limelight into a support and training role, much of the public resentment towards America in Iraq may start to fade, as people see Iraqis, and not Americans patrolling the streets.
....I think it misses the central problem going forward. I’d love a unified, dedicated Iraqi security force to take over, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. What appears to be happening is that sectarian conflicts are dividing the institutions into ’teams’, co-opting the security agencies and continuing their conflicts with the machinery of the government.
My biggest question is how do we measure proficiency or success in "nation building?"
I posted what I see as the goals or endstate we have in mind...
that means standing up Iraqi security forces so that they are proficient and trusted, fostering a free-market economy, and guiding the Iraqis towards a democratic form of government.
A liberal democracy is much more then just elections, it includes institutions which promote the rule of law, and equality under the law. Those institutions don’t grow and take hold overnight. They certainly did not grow overnight in our own country. And yet, we expect these countries to fully accept liberal democracy, and our egalitarian ways.
By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the political rulers.
If we are half-way successful, we will foster governments in Iraq and elsewhere, which do not use their monopoly of power against their citizens. Of course, the big problem in many of these half-failed states is that the government is does not have a monopoly of power. In Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, you have private militias who work towards their own ends.
But even if we have an end state, or intermediary goals in mind, what do we compare it to?
I’d love a unified, dedicated Iraqi security force to take over, but that doesn’t appear to be happening.
Well, according to this, the Iraqi army is halfway there. The Iraqi police has always been acknowledged as being lower in standards and higher in sectarian make-up. But one would expect those divisions in forces made up primarily of locals, because the country is segmented into ethnic/religious enclaves. Baghdad being the exception.
Standing up an Army, or police force, takes time, effort, and commitment, both from those doing the training, and those being trained.
The Iraqi army took an important step forward Tuesday by marking the halfway point for division headquarters to take the lead for security operations throughout the country.
The 4th Iraqi Army Division assumed control of their area of responsibility, encompassing regions spanning three of Iraq’s northern provinces, Salahad Din , As Sulaymaniyah and At-Ta’mim provinces.
Its area of responsibility includes the cities of Tikrit, Kirkuk, Bayji and Samarra, as well as the major oil and electrical infrastructure in northern Iraq.
The 4th IA Division is the fifth of 10 Iraqi Army divisions to take control over Iraqi units in their assigned regions. In addition, there have been 25 brigades and 85 battalions assuming operational command and control to date.
"Today is a day of dignity for us Iraqis who are loyal to the motherland," said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Abdel-Rahman al-Mufti, commander of the 4th Iraqi Army Division. "We will not stop or look back," he said.
* End the brutal Saddam regime: Yes. But will it be replaced with something better? Considering the intractable disputes between Sunnis and Shiites and the private militia’s that are handling them, it may not be.
At the end of the day, that’s not our problem. No one has proposed staying in Iraq indefinitely to prevent Sunni/Shiite disputes in perpetuity. That is not, and never has been, an outcome that we control. The best we can do is give them an acceptably free and democratic government before we leave.
While I largely agree with you on this issue, wasn’t one of the primary aims of the War in Iraq to promote democracy in Iraq, and thus the Middle East?
Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;
You also say:
I would phrase our primary war aims thusly:
* Eliminate the Ba’athist Regime of Saddam Hussein. * Eliminate any present or future threat from Iraqi WMDs.
Beyond that, I would frame our secondary war aims as:
* Assist the Iraqis in creating a democratic government. * Assist the Iraqis in creating a security regime competent to defend the country against both internal and external threats.
(emphasis added) Isn’t this splitting cause and effect? In order to accomplish the "Eliminat[ion of] any present or future threat from Iraqi WMDs" don’t we have to "Assist the Iraqis in creating a democratic government"?
I ask because, in my opinion, we will have accomplished very little (possibly nothing at all) if Iraq reverts to an instable regime, hostile to America and supportive of terrorism. I don’t know that a civil war would result in such a regime, but it might, and that would definitely be a collossal failure as far as I’m concerned. Accordingly, a stable democracy in Iraq cannot be fairly relegated to a "secondary" aim of the war, can it?
The Bush Administration’s track record in prosecuting the Iraq War hardly inspires confidence in its planning capabilities.
Oh please. I remember the looming refugee disaster that was supposed to happen. I remember the 10s of thousands of projected US casualities projected as well as the months it would take to reach Baghdad.
How well did the D-Day landings go? Did they go according to plan? How about the logistical support for the invasion?
The problem with guessing the future is that you’re often wrong.
I was unclear when I wrote: The Bush Administration’s track record in prosecuting the Iraq War hardly inspires confidence in its planning capabilities. You are absolutely correct that the war itself went quite well in terms of casualties and duration. However, I was including the war’s aftermath within my comment and I should have made that clear. However, if you think that the aftermath — which, to me, is part of the war — has been well-planned and well-executed then we certainly do disagree.
Well, in another country, we could "declare victory" and go home. Just as we typically do after a Haitian intervention - 6 times in the last 100 years - until the morons there who are intellectually and culturally unfit to create a modern nation and we have to go back and fix their infastructure, stabilize their society all over again.
The problem with Iraq is scarce global oil. And strategic position - as the instability and uncertainty created with the US war in Iraq causes Iran to get filthy rich on 80 a barrel oil, and our transformation of Iraq [inadvertently] from a secular to a sectarian state ensures we have Shiite militant Islam becoming as great a threat to us as Sunni militant Islam was 4 years ago.
I never thought we’d encounter a nation so full of backstabbing ingrates as France. Until we got in Iraq. I never thought we would see a people so murderously inclined as to fail to rationally pursue national interest instead of death and vengence as the Palestinians. Until we got in Iraq. I never thought that a humane policy of war-waging that spared civilians was a bad idea or that Geneva was a failing idea in certain cultures that may fall completely in time due to Islamic disregard of it’s rules. Until we got in Iraq.
I never thought I’d say it about a people, but the more "noble purple-fingered freedom-loving Iraqi Arabs" kill one another, their wives, their innocent brown little babies in Civil War, the better off civilization will be for it.
Unfortunately, strategic considerations obligate us to not leave the Iraqi Arabs to the self-butchery they so richly deserve to start on. We are truly mired in the place. We cannot leave without writing off 22,000 casualties and 800 billions as totally squandered...and creating even worse instability. Iraq is Dubya’s and the neocon’s tarbaby that America will be stuck to for at least a decade.
Meanwhile, Rising China watches our mess, watches us bleed lives and treasures to keep the oil freely flowing to ChiCom-Land, loans us money, sells Iran advanced weaponry in return for petroleum. All while it dominates us economically as the low-cost workforce of preference by virtue of the Ruling Global Elites decision to make workers a low-cost global commodity - then wrests control away from us in industry after industry, and laughs. And laughs.
A better Civil War analogy is that often missed in most high school history classes, Lincoln was assassinated after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, but before an agreement or terms of surrender was hammered out with the civilian members of the Confederate government.
My point .. most school children are taught that the Civil War ended at Appomattox Court House, but like those who claim that the Iraq War ended with the "Mission Accomplished" moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln, they are wrong. Much, much more was needed and is needed. A mission isn’t a war, and peace is often even harder.
You found a political compromise through a united federal democratic process.
Did we lose WWII?
You were confronted with a strong enemy in the form of the Red Army and decided not to fight.
Absent the kind of ruthlessness the Romans commonly displayed, it is nearly impossible to achieve all of one’s war aims.
Exactly - you’d have to defeat Iran and Syria and possibly Saudi Arabia. Just like in WW2 (when America faced a millions strong, modern and effective fighting force) or the Civil War (when Reconstructionists faced the people of America exercising their federal mandate) you are confronted by a undefeatable foe (who could destroy many oil wells) and have decided to hold position. Because your enemies are too strong for you to defeat you have to hold this ground until they are defeated by the rigors of time (think collapse of Communism over 40 years or Civil Rights in the South after 80 years). The likeliest cause of their internal defeat will be oil running out (in 2050 - 2070) or a nuclear war with Israel (sometime after August 22nd).