More Dialog Posted by: Dale Franks
on Friday, May 25, 2007
Well, Oliver Willis was quick with a response. It's nice to see that we can have a civil discussion on things about which we don't agree.
A couple of larger points in your response leap out at me. You repeatedly make statements like "Our forces in Iraq are being killed to the tune of about 100 a month", "sticking around in Iraq and getting killed", "not getting killed every day", and "troops shouldn't be killed".
Well, I hate to sound cruel here, but, speaking as a former career NCO in line units, some troops getting killed is the price of admission to the party. They are—like I was—volunteering to do the job they do. They willingly take the risks required to do it. The thing about serving in a line unit is that not being killed really isn't on the top of your priorities. Completing the mission of the day is. Not getting killed, admittedly, runs a very, very, very close second, though.
Now you can say that they are getting killed for no good reason, but I deal with Marines all the time. I get briefings from guys who are returning from Iraq. They seem to think their mission there is a valid one. So, whose opinion should I give more weight to: the shooters, or you?
But, even more importantly, you make it sound like our guys over there are sitting ducks, who are helplessly waiting to die. As it happens, however, they are doing a fair amount of killing themselves. We don't do daily body counts any more, but I'm pretty sure that the casualty ratio is overwhelmingly on the side of the US soldier.
But, at the end of the day, whether or not soldiers are getting killed in situation A really shouldn't be the overriding concern.
Second, you want to keep putting in the whole history deal, saying, "What led up to the war matters because it is used daily by the right to explain away current and future behavior." So what? We're aren't talking about the Right, or what it wants to do, or the justifications it uses. Even if I grant that everything you say is true, we're now talking about what you want to do, and the repercussions of that policy. You can say, "Bush lied, people died", all you want, but that doesn't change the empirical situation as it exists at this moment.
I grant the Bush Administration has used horrible leadership. The question is, why is a complete reversal of that policy the only possible option? Why are there no other options?
You've given your point of view on those questions, so there's no need to repeat them, but is there any middle option that can retrieve the past bad decisions?
You seem to know precisely what the Iraqis want. I, on the other hand, freely admit that I have no idea what "the Iraqis" want.
Well, it isn't the French who are shooting at American soldiers in Iraq, is it? It isn't the Germans who hold anti-American marches in Iraq, eh?
Well, that's non-responsive, isn't it? What percentage of Iraqis want to kill Americans? there are 25 million Iraqi and less than 150,000 Americans. If "the Iraqis" wanted to kill Americans, there wouldn't be much we could do to stop them, short of nuking the country. So, what percentage wants sharia law? And why did so many people turn out for elections to elect a more or less secular government? Your assertion that "the Iraqis" want X, is nothing more than that: an assertion.
I don't think you can extrapolate from the fact that there's an insurgency that "the Iraqis" are sold on the insurgents aims. So, when you make blanket statements about what "the Iraqis" want, I think, since there is empirical evidence from a series of elections that contradicts your view, you need to explain a little more clearly why your assertions are true.
This is the most specious argument that comes from the right - that liberals don't somehow support democracy in the middle east out of some sort of racial animus. It's just stupid and insulting.
Well, I doubt it comes from racial animus. It's their culture, not their race, that's at issue. But whatever the reason, if you're arguing that they can't, or won't willingly support a popular government, then you are at least implicitly saying that they are deficient in some way, aren't you?
I still believe in [nation-building], but not in a hot zone like Iraq. Also, the bulk of those interventions were well planned and executed with little to no loss of U.S. lives or damage to our security.
OK, but the thing is, most places that require nation building are, or have the potential to be, hot zones. The hot zones tend to be the places that need nation-building the most. And I don't know how you can really predict that a military deployment to country X will be safe and easy. Isn't that the kind of thinking on the Bush administration's part that you dislike?
I am kind of curious as to why you think that US forces cannot simultaneously deploy to Iraq, and also look for al-Qaeda affiliates. After all, going after Al Qaeda is—considering that doing so would require operating in foreign countries—basically a small unit, special ops deal. It has very little at all to do with Iraq. This is akin to arguing that having US troops stationed at NATO bases in Europe hinders our ability to provide adequate assistance to the Japanese Self-Defense Force. We're perfectly capable of doing both.
Er, because nobody at Ramstein Air Base in Germany is trying to blow us up? In Iraq, we're not simply twiddling our thumbs in a base or going on NATO drills. Our forces in Iraq are being killed to the tune of about 100 a month currently. Furthermore, while those forces are deployed in Iraq and being killed for no good reason, Al Qaeda has had a free hand in areas like the Pakistani border and elsewhere around the world.
Our guys in Iraq, again, are not just being killed. They are doing the lion's share of the killing, when not otherwise occupied in providing security, training, etc.
But I really have a problem with your larger point that, because we're in Iraq, Al Qaeda is getting a free pass in Pakistan. You seem terribly insouciant about invading Pakistan. Is that wholly wise? Why would an invasion of Pakistan—which is at least a nominal ally—not simply result in the same sort of things you decry in Iraq? Do you imagine the Pakistanis would be more tolerant of an invasion than the Iraqis? How would an invasion of Pakistan be any less dangerous or complicated than an invasion of Iraq?
And in Iraq, isn't Al Qaeda operating as well? If we shift all our forces to Pakistan, won't we simply be exchanging one bad situation for another one that would be substantially the same? And allowing Al Qaeda to transfer to safety in Iraq? Do you expect Al Qaeda just to stick around in Pakistan and wait to be killed?
I'm afraid I don't understand your reasoning on that.
What are the gaping holes in US security?
The continued existence and mobility of Al Qaeda and their associates. Their continued freedom and the growth and decentralized state of that network means that we've got gigantic holes in our security. Not to mention the continual folly of having National Guardsmen being blown up in Iraq and absent come the regular natural and otherwise disasters here on the home front.
Well, if the existence and mobility of Al Qaeda is the big hole, I'm not sure how we plug it, absent occupying the entire Arab World. Absent that, they'll always have sanctuary somewhere.
If the situation was that Al Qaeda was running around in Pakistan, and leaving us alone in Iraq, you might be coming fairly close to a point. But that isn't the situation, is it? Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. Their mouthpieces tend to make a big deal of it, in fact. And we seem to have bumped off a good portion of there leadership there, causing a certain amount of rotation among them, as it were.
Now maybe having troops in the Mideast at all, is an a priori bad idea, but I don't see how moving from Iraq to Pakistan substantially changes the situation faced on the ground by the average 11B infantryman.
Is it that, in Pakistan, we just won't give a damn about doing nation-building, and just concentrate on killing people who seem to need killing? Is it because the Pakistani government will send in their troops to help us out?
This is what always gets me. The people who advocated the invasion and occupation of Iraq are all of a sudden taken up by the vapors when it comes to killing the people behind 9/11 because of something like a border. We didn't - appropriately - give a hoot about Afghanistan's borders when they were harboring terrorists, did we?
Well, I don't thinks it's the borders that are the problem as much as it was that a) Afghanistan wasn't a state, it was a state in escrow, b) it was already involved in a civil war, c) substantial portions of the country were held by the opposition, and d) we had allies in the opposition that were keen to accept our help. None of those elements apply in Pakistan. It's a real state, with a real government, and a real military, with uniforms and everything. I don't think we can just walk in and take over part of the country without some nasty things happening as a result.
So, if the US military wasn't sending 150,000 guys to Iraq, what, precisely, would those guys be doing that would be more useful?
Most importantly - not getting killed every day, secondly, providing support, etc. to us and our allies in the way that the military always has.
Ah. "Providing support". I assume the invasion of Pakistan won't hinder that vital "providing support" mission.
Whatever that is.
Sorry, I don't mean to be snarky, but that's such a non-specific answer as to be meaningless.
The troops that died in Afghanistan died in pursuit of the mass murdering organization that killed thousands of people and was a threat to us and our allies. The people dying in Iraq are dying because the president is obsessed with swinging it around so he doesnt seem "weak".
Well, except that they do seem to be plugging a large number of Al Qaeda guys among others.
As far your characterization if the president's motivation, I'm afraid that, again, I don't have the access to other people's inner lives that you seem to have.
Iraq is a haven terrorists because Americans are in Iraq. It's easy pickings for them to come in and kill us because we're so damn busy building and policing this country while the inhabitants are at war with each other.
So why wouldn't Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists because Americans were there? And, what if we stopped trying to police Iraq, and told the Iraqis that all we cared about was killing Al Qaeda, and apart from that, they were on their own? Would the mission then be acceptable, as long as we were killing Al Qaeda members?
As I said before, this is where the right gets really funny and stupid on purpose in order to keep things in their preferred framing of the war on terror. We are at war with Al Qaeda. If a nation is harboring Al Qaeda, well too bad for their border. We did not ask the Taliban government in Afghanistan for permission to come in and get Bin Laden. We gave them fair warning then went in to get them. The idea that in order to stay within the conservative boundaries of this discussion we're all of a sudden unable to penetrate the borders of a nation harboring a clear enemy is practically beyond ludicrous.
Well, I think the reason it's become acceptable is that, having done it once in Iraq, doing it again somewhere else simply isn't in the cards. As I noted above, the results of a Pakistani invasion would be substantially the same as the results we're seeing in Iraq. The majority of Al Qaeda's infrastructure would hie off to Yemen, or somewhere, some portion of the fighters would snipe at us, and the local Pakistanis would be displeased, perhaps to a large degree.
[C]onservatives still seem to believe us sticking around in Iraq and getting killed will some how magically transmogrify into "Victory!" that sees Iraq echoing U.S.-style democracy...Sitting and hoping for this situation to magically heal is not going to make a thing happen, except increase the casualty count and be an irritant in the region.
Well, I'm not sure the plan is to simply sit around and hope. We have tried to change the strategy and tactics via the surge. It remains to be seen whether or not it works.
I think that if it doesn't look like some sort of success by the end of the year, I'll probably come over to the withdrawal side, too. We're trying to salvage four years of political—and military—incompetence here, and I think it's our last shot.
But I'm willing to give Gen. Petraeus that last shot.
Iraq doesn't exist in a vacuum. Why should we assume the implosion you foresee would have benign effects on the region as a whole?
Again, please stop shoving words in my mouth. Nobody with any common sense believes things will be benign. But the idea that well, we just stay in Iraq and send home body bags every month and not have our forces available for defense because golly gosh we don't know the unknowns is a) what we've been doing and b) stupid.
Well, you haven't addressed at any time why a civil war in Iraq won't flare up into a wider regional conflict. That seems like a pretty important issue to me.
If Iraq, a regional power, descends into civil war, won't the temptation to meddle by Turkey, Iran, Syria, et al. be an important concern? I'm not saying it should be an overriding, concern, but shouldn't you have a go-to-hell plan about what to do if the whole region starts to go south? Shouldn't you at least be thinking about it?
This fellow isn’t debating honestly but just spamming you from every direction with sundry objections. The debate doesn’t stay focused; you’re being barraged. You’d do better to pick a more articulate and organized opponent because refuting a poorly formulated position doesn’t achieve very much.
It’s too bad because for a few microseconds the fellow seems to have a valid concern which can’t be adequately explored because of his silly counter-examples, his continually harping on the obvious costs of war, and his lack of a coherent policy alternative. As a consequence it is worthless to extract any valid concern from such a confused exposition. Try a more worthy opponent.
Let’s not make the same mistake - you don’t reinforce failure, but until we see true failure, let’s hold the phone. Not all of the surge is there yet, and COIN takes time as it is.
That isn’t really a good argument to continue a policy. Instead, you have to think about whether the policy is likely to work, analyze the costs of continuing, the costs of altering the policy and the various alternatives out there.
For reasons I listed in a post in the 6076 comment section, I am convinced there is no military victory possible. Not only are the problems embedded in the society and culture (corruption, sectarian differences) but insurgents can move, adapt, hide, and even lay low for long periods of time. Militias exist for all groups including those in government, our supposed allies who we want to support. Yet while we benefit little from trying to see if we can make something work, the cost is immense in terms of over-stretching the military, costing lives and people, and dividing our society at home. Moreover, even if counter insurgency efforts could lead to a better situation down the line, the headlines this summer will not be pretty, and the public and political pressure to change course will grow to a point that we’ll have to leave anyway. No one doubts that the insurgents and militias can evade a geographically focused "surge" until election 2008 after all.
So maybe it’s best to simply redefine the game. Take a bold diplomatic initiative with the states in the region, and announce we are going to give up control of the security situation to the Iraqi government, who would then ask for a UN Security Council mandated mission to enhance security and help stabilize the situation. This mission can have chapter seven authority and include members of Muslim states both Shi’ite and Sunni. The US could maintain a presence if deemed appropriate and not counter-productive, but as a small part of this mission. The goal will be to isolate radical groups, reconcile those who fight for sectarian reasons. That’s not guaranteed to work, but not meaning to be insulting but sometimes when I hear people say "give it time, it’s not failed yet" I have the image of Homer and Bart Simpson chasing the bar bq’d pig that vegetarian Lisa "liberated" as it rolls down the hill, floats in a river, gets caught in a dam and then ultimately shot out into the sky. Homer keeps saying "it’s still good, just a little dirty/wet/airborn...it’s still good...it’s still good" Finally, as the pig fades from sight, Bart says "Face dad, it’s gone." "I know," Homer admits sadly.
It’s hard to let go of something one considers important. One tries to hold on to it. Support for the war is hard to let go in part because it feels like you’ll be giving some kind of the victory to the ’bush lied people died’ crowd that many have learned to despise or at least disrespect. Ignore that. Who cares what others think or how they’ll react? Look only at the policy and be willing to consider the possibility that the policy itself was misguided.
Why would an invasion of Pakistan—which is at least a nominal ally—not simply result in the same sort of things you decry in Iraq? Do you imagine the Pakistanis would be more tolerant of an invasion than the Iraqis? How would an invasion of Pakistan be any less dangerous or complicated than an invasion of Iraq?....As I noted above, the results of a Pakistani invasion would substantially same as the results we’re seeing in Iraq.
Surely you don’t actually believe this, do you? I think it’s pretty obvious that invading Pakistan would result in a situation far, far worse than invading Iraq has.
We’re trying to salvage four years of political—and military—incompetence here, and I think it’s our last shot
Please Dale, don’t hyphenate the military with the politicians when you talk about "incompetence". AFAIC, the military won it for us in 2003. It was the politicians (read, GWB) that were (and still are) incompetent..
Iraq doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Why should we assume the implosion you foresee would have benign effects on the region as a whole?
The problem with this debate between you and Oliver is that both sides assume that Iraq is going to collapse into genocide when the U.S. leaves. I think the odds are at least even that Iraq won’t get much worse than it is already, and that the serious internal bleeding will scale down relatively quickly after we leave - and after some sort of political rearrangement occurs.
It’s reasonable to assume that if we pulled out, Iraq would descend further into slaughter and ethnic-cleansing. A Shiite ethnic-cleansing of Baghdad and the Sunni triangle means the Sunni jihadists lose. Is this bad for us?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the Anbar tribes have finally switched sides but it might be too late given American political constraints. What would be the consequences of an Arab Shiite state situated between a Persian Shiite state and an Arab Sunni world?
And why did so many people turn out for elections to elect a more or less secular government?
What elections were those? The ones where Allawi’s secular party lost half their seats and again resulted in a victory for the UIA, dominated by the Islamic Daawa Party, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq? The most recent elections didn’t result in a "more or less secular" govenment, but as straightforwardly less secular one.
I think that if it doesn’t look like some sort of success by the end of the year, I’ll probably come over to the withdrawal side, too. We’re trying to salvage four years of political—and military—incompetence here, and I think it’s our last shot.
What will be different about the consequences of withdrawal at that point? In what way will the chaos (or whatever comes) after we leave be less dire once we’ve spent another six months failing to progress in Iraq? Why all this sturm und drang about the consequences of withdrawal when you now acknowledge that it is US forward momentum or lack thereof that will determine your own support for withdrawal, and not any of these potential consequences?