The U.S. Diplomats Write

Dear Mr President:

’Hello,’ he lied. One of the best book titles I know of.

We former US diplomats applaud our 52 British colleagues who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States.

Well, we like the influence Blair has had so far, and their troops have done a pretty good job in Iraq, so I’d say I like the influence that Britain has had on the U.S. But I think they want to change Britain’s policies as well.

As retired foreign service officers we care deeply about our nation’s foreign policy and US credibility in the world.

I believe that. I also believe that they are deeply invested in a process that it fundamentally broken, much as the retired buggywhip makers were distraught at the changes that internal combustion brought. I’ll skip over the little detail (made often by others) about their British colleagues being on the Arab dole, and I won’t dig into Googling all the names and seeing how deeply this group’s hands are shoved into Arab pockets.

We also are deeply concerned by your April 14 endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan to reject the rights of three million Palestinians, to deny the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and to retain five large illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank.

So giving back Gaza is a bad thing? And the telling note about ‘the right of refugees to return…’ well, that’s pretty much a nonstarter and has always been. The right of return means the end of Israel; it’s that simple.

I oppose the settlements (and for a good article on the current issues, go see this in Ha’aretz)

This plan defies UN Security Council resolutions calling for Israel’s return of occupied territories.

No!! And it also defies a billion referenda at world conferences on racism, in which nations that won’t – as an example – let me travel in certain cities, because I’m a nonbeliever – get to criticize the U.S. and Israel for our horrible history on race.

It ignores international laws declaring Israeli settlements illegal.

Another argument against the ICC and international law.

It flouts UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948, which affirms the right of refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation for the loss of their property and assistance in resettling in a host country should they choose to do so.

Didn’t they just say that?

And it undermines the Road Map for peace drawn up by the Quartet, including the US. Finally, it reverses longstanding American policy in the Middle East.

Which was working so well, by the way, all through 2001 and 2002.

Your meeting with Sharon followed a series of intensive negotiating sessions between Israelis and Americans, but which left out Palestinians.

Well, most of the Palestinians with any power were hiding from Israeli helicopters, which made them difficult to negotiate with. Reasonable Palestinians, who want to actually see peace, have mostly been cowed into silence by the homicidal thugs running the West Bank and Gaza these days.

In fact, you and Prime Minister Sharon consistently have excluded Palestinians from peace negotiations.

See note above.

Former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo voiced the overwhelming reaction of people around the world when he said: “I believe President Bush declared the death of the peace process today”.

Well, if what we’ve had in the last three years is the fruits of the peace process these diplomats support, I’m all for cheering it’s demise. Long live the new peace process.

By closing the door to negotiations with Palestinians and the possibility of a Palestinian state, you have proved that the United States is not an even-handed peace partner.

Actually, here’s the hidden point: by withdrawing from Gaza and more of the West Bank, Israel is actually bringing the possibility of a Palestinian State closer. I wonder why these guys think this is a bad thing?

You have placed US diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in an untenable and even dangerous position.

That’s what they are paid for.

Your unqualified support of Sharon’s extra-judicial assassinations, Israel’s Berlin Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories, and now your endorsement of Sharon’s unilateral plan are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends.

So on one hand, the wall –designed to limit suicide bombings, and the need to take steps against those who make them happen – is condemned. On the other, the actions taken because of the absence of the wall are condemned. So basically, the Israelis just sit around the pizzerias and schools and wait to get blown up?

It is not too late to reassert American principles of justice and fairness in our relations with all the peoples of the Middle East.

Actually, I think Bush did that, in concert with a certain level of American realism.

Support negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, with the United States serving as a truly honest broker.

I’ve discussed the value of such negotiations below.

A return to the time-honored American tradition of fairness will reverse the present tide of ill will in Europe and the Middle East – even in Iraq.

Yes, the time-honored tradition of fairness, which has worked so damn well. Why not keep doing the same thing over and over, as conditions for the Palestinian people deteriorate, as the Palestinian elites enrich themselves, and Israeli and Palestinian women and children die. It’s been good to them; they get to ride around in armored Suburbans, stay in ritzy hotels, drink good wine, and hardly ever get blown up. Hasn’t worked so well for the folks on the ground, though.

Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the problems in the Middle East, the entire region – and the world – will rejoice along with Israelis and Palestinians when the killing stops and peace is attained.

Well, I’d always thought that brutal, kleptocratic governments oppressing their people so that they could send as much of their oil wealth to Switzerland as possible was the core of the problems in the Middle East. But what do I know? I’m not an expert.

How offensive and stupid is this letter?

They didn’t even feel it necessary to make the sidebar, pro-forma condemnation of Palestinian terror.

I’m glad these clowns are retired. I wish I’d been in a position to offer them a far earlier exit from service; the world would be a better place if only that had happened.

62 thoughts on “The U.S. Diplomats Write”

  1. As anyone who followed your [LINK] can tell, the rejection of Sharon’s plan (imperfect as it may have been) is an absolute disaster. It follows that working to pass the plan was the right idea. It’s imperfections could have been negotiated away later.

  2. A. L.:

    Sundries has done yeoman’s work in Googling the backgrounds of the signatories of the letter. While there’s no particular “smoking gun”, it’s pretty clear that most are career diplomats who’ve spent many years taking pro-Arab and anti-Israeli positions which is not much of a surprise. A substantial number are octogenarians.

    While there may be nothing wrong ipso facto in being pro-Arab, anti-Israeli or octogenarian for that matter, my own feeling is that these Middle East hands are nostalgic for a world that no longer exists: a world in which we had nothing to fear from Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and in which the Palestinians hadn’t rejected pretty nearly every offer that had been made to them.

    I guess I’m nostalgic for it myself. But that world is gone. And their opinions aren’t particularly helpful in the new world that their hands have gone a long way towards making.

  3. I’m not sure which scenario is more offensive to me–one in which these diplomats’ pocketbooks are doing the talking (the British letter may qualify) or one in which they aren’t (possibly this letter, as Dave notes).

    Sigh. Once Donald Rumsfeld retires from his post at the Pentagon, I would SO love to see him roll up his sleeves at Foggy Bottom. State needs some serious housecleaning, and if Gen. Powell has been busting heads, I haven’t heard a word of it.

  4. Dave,

    “While there may be nothing wrong ipso facto in being…octogenarian….”

    Don’t trust anyone over 80? =)

  5. The Department of State is AQ’s most powerful ally in the WOT. Talk about generals fighting the last war. State is busy negoiating a truce from the 19th century. Wake up guys! Wilson is done, Machiavelli is back on top. Meanwhile the world is full of NGO’s that are a lot more powerful then some nation states. Togo is not capable of manufacturing a nuclear weapon, but Microsft could if Bill thought it was profitable. Al Qaeda is an NGO, just Like Halliberton , Toyota and Siemens-Bell. Who is America’s ambassador to Honda? It is the 21st century. Why would the USA have an ambassador to Ghana but not Toyoto? Do the morooners at State really think that the NGO’s can be controlled by the governments they own? When the American NGO’s realize that with Kerry as President, The biggest crash in the history of the wall street is inevitable, watch the money start to flow.

  6. Have you actually tried reading about life on the ground for Palestinians West Bank or better still look at the pictures!

    Rafah, West Bank

    Not to suggest that you have problems reading… but how can you seriously believe that a group of informed people who wish their view to go down as a historical record and as a stimuli for public debate is a bad thing?

    Are you really suggesting that the world would be a better place if we shut up and didn’t question decisions we disagree with that are made on our behalf by government?

  7. Goldfish,

    I don’t think that’s what he’s saying at all. He simply and logically refuted many of the arguments made in the diplomats’ letter. Who said public debate is a bad thing? This is public debate. If he didn’t believe in public debate, Armed Liberal would never have addressed this letter in the first place.

  8. Why don’t we see if Rummy does any housecleaning at DoD first?

    Don Rumsfeld: “I think that — I’m not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture. I don’t know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there’s been a conviction for torture. And therefore I’m not going to address the torture word.”

    That’s not real encouraging, is it?

    And in the argument between Rummy and the military on troop strength, isn’t the judgment that Rummy didn’t have a clue?

    No, I don’t think I’d leave him in charge of fixing the sidewalks, much less State.

  9. Runsfeld is famous for being very, very specific in the words he uses. This exchange is just vintage Rumsfeld.

    I’m not worried about housecleaning at DoD with Rumsfeld in charge. There has already been a good deal of that, and there will be more. A precise man, and perhaps too stubborn for his own good at times, but one thing he is most certainly not known for is tolerance of fools and knaves.

  10. Andrew,

    Rumsfeld, with many others, was partly responsible for ending the enslavement of 25 million people. He did so using a plan that resulted in historically low casualties on both sides. Apparently he’s a man who also prefers precision; hence his refutation of your hapless journalist.

    I’m not sure why you think Rumsfeld wouldn’t be capable of reversing the policy of “stability-at-all-costs” that prevails at State despite the Administration’s avowed anti-stability shift.

  11. I oppose the settlements too. My reason is fairness.

    Jews out of Arab lands. Arabs out of Jewish lands.

    Fair is fair.

  12. Goldfish –

    No, I’m very much aware of the conditions on the West bank and in Gaza (which is, if anything, worse than the West Bank. We just disagree as to why the conditions there are so bad; you blame the jews, I blame Araft and the thugs who support him, as well as the Arab nations that have denied the Palestinians the right to immigrate for the past 45 years.

    Back to you.


  13. Some one in America said at the beginning of America’s active involvement in WW2 about State:

    “The best we can hope for is neutrality”.

    You might want to read the beginning of the famous Patton speech to findout what the press of that era was like.

    Some things never change.

    All this came in an era in which it is assumed because of the ex-post facto rightness of the cause that the support for the war was universal. Nope. Not even close.

    Journalists and State have always been antagonistic to America.

  14. Rumsfeld managed our Cold War policy from 1945? Funny, he doesn’t look that old.

    He did so using a plan that resulted in historically low casualties on both sides.

    Apparently he’s a man who also prefers precision; hence his refutation of your hapless journalist.

    Yes, Bill Clinton was being very precise. For example, since he wasn’t with Monica on the jury room, he could safely say he wasn’t having an affair with her, and then claim that at precisely that moment, he wasn’t. And of course to this day he says the questions about his relationship with Monica weren’t sufficiently precise as to include blow jobs. Frankly, I think precision here is a little overrated. The more so that the practices alleged certainly meet the legal definition of torture, even if that isn’t the charge (two Iraqis beaten to death!?).

    The following exchange shows Rummy isn’t precise, he’s evasive, mendacious, and incompetent. (Remember: 30K troops in Iraq by 12/03?)

    SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this. If they did not have these weapons of mass destruction, though, granted all of that is true, why then did they pose an immediate threat to us, to this country?

    Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, you’re the–you and a few other critics are the only people I’ve heard use the phrase `immediate threat.’ I didn’t. The president didn’t. And it’s become kind of folklore that that’s–that’s what’s happened. The president went…

    SCHIEFFER: You’re saying that nobody in the administration said that.

    Sec. RUMSFELD: I–I can’t speak for nobody–everybody in the administration and say nobody said that.

    SCHIEFFER: Vice president didn’t say that? The…

    Sec. RUMSFELD: Not–if–if you have any citations, I’d like to see ‘em.

    Mr. FRIEDMAN: We have one here. It says `some have argued that the nu’–this is you speaking–`that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.’

    Sec. RUMSFELD: And–and…

    Mr. FRIEDMAN: It was close to imminent.

    Sec. RUMSFELD: Well, I’ve–I’ve tried to be precise, and I’ve tried to be accurate. I’m s–suppose I’ve…

    Mr. FRIEDMAN: `No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world and the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.’

    Sec. RUMSFELD: Mm-hmm. It–my view of–of the situation was that he–he had–we–we believe, the best intelligence that we had and other countries had and that–that we believed and we still do not know–we will know.

  15. I blame Arafat, Arab states who use the Palestinians to divert attention from their own sins, and the concept of diplomacy that have allowed people like Arafat to enrich himself and his associates from the misery of those he claims to represent. I blame the U.N. and American fatuousness in continuing to support it after so much proof that it is feckles and wasteful when it isn’t positively corrupt.

    I’d like these former diplomats to point to one thing they’ve done that compares with the freeing of 25,000,000 people in less than 1 month. I’d like them to show me how Paletinians or Egyptians or Syrians or the Arabs living under Saudi rule are more free today than they have been for 50 years.

    Unless they can do that, I think they ought to shut up and hang their heads.

  16. I misread the number, I thought Rummy was being plumped for winning the Cold War. Now I see that the 25MM people in one month is Iraq?!?!

    You must be joking. Have you truly not noticed the poor reception our troops are getting? The chaotic situation in country? The fact we still don’t have electricity back at pre-war levels, waiting for Bechtel to improve its profits? The mind well and truly boggles. Talk about defining “freeing” down.

  17. Andrew, with due respect – the situation there is definitely fluid, and I’m certainly not one to crow triumphant; I am uncertain – as we all should be. It’s as annoying to me to hear it pronounced a ‘failure’ by people who wish it so as it is to hear it pronouced a ‘ringing success’ by people who are equally talking out of their hopes.

    How about we all agree that things there are muddled, our information poor, and that understanding what’s going on better probably ought to take precedence over beating our chests in self-validation?

    Note that this applies to both sides of this argument in my book.


  18. A.L.– did I say Iraq was a permanent failure? Although I might well believe that, I think the correct reading of my last two posts is ridiculing the idea that Iraq is a “success”. Obviously, it could be somewhere in between, or at some time in the future it could be very obviously one or the other.

  19. Andrew Lazarus writes:

    The fact we still don’t have electricity back at pre-war levels, waiting for Bechtel to improve its profits?

    According to the SF Chronicle, pre-war levels were around 4500 Megawatts. According to the CPA (click on the top date), electricity levels were approaching the pre-war levels until the insurgency started. Based on the trends in the graphs, one can suppose that the insurgency might have something to do with the changed trend. Nevertheless, from August of last year until May of this year, a peak capacity of approximately 1000 MW has miraculously appeared, despite Bechtel’s so-called desire to improve its profits. (As an aside, which for-profit corporations does Mr. Lazarus know which don’t strive to increase their profits?)

    What’s interesting about this data, and the SF article as well, is that it shows that the CPA has been striving to conduct short-term improvements for the power situation at the same time as they are trying to build a longer-term plan (what Mr. Lazarus bemoans as their desire to improve their profits). It seems to me that one can hardly object to this sort of two-pronged approach – attacking both the immediate situation while planning for a longer-term more major fix.

  20. Andrew,

    Do you believe that if you ignore the rescue of 25 million Iraqis, people will cease to consider it in any moral calculation about the success or failure of the war or its proponents?

    I ask because, while you seem to consider Rumsfeld’s press conference proficiency, you fail to give him credit for this other conduct. Or are you discounting slavery or the worthiness of Iraqis to be rescued from it?

  21. Ariel, Excuses come and go, but our failure to restore pre-war levels of electricity endures. If it’s the insurgency (likely enough), then why don’t we have enough troops to protect the power lines and generating stations? You have merely restated the fact that we are far from success, not in any way refuted it. As far as the profits, I find something a little curious in my tax money going to this project. I would rather have seen the Europeans who were blackballed, who might have been able to supply necessary spare parts faster, and Iraqis working on this project and finishing it faster. The idea that we can dawdle our way to reconstructing Iraq both physically and politically and our timetable doesn’t matter is fallacious.

    Mark: Rescue? From what and into what? You seem to be a little behind. Right now we’re investigating two dozen suspicious deaths of detainees who died during rescue interrogations in rescued torture chambers and even rescued rape rooms. We have been completely unable to create a political structure for a new Iraq; three-way civil war looms the minute we are out of there, and for many millions, daily life is actually worse than it was under Saddam (see: no electricity, above). Even for those for whom it is marginally better, many are taking up arms to make us leave immediately. We went into this war under the self-delusion that we were liberating Iraq, and that when we decapitated the Saddam regime, everyone would be grateful and everything would work out (under President Chalabi). Notihng like this occurred in real life. What we’re stuck in now is turning (rapidly) into a classic war of colonialist occupation. Haven’t you noticed?

  22. Yes another opportunity has gone astray, one even endorsed by the Bush Whitehouse.

    How long will it be that any reasonable men and women can be found among the Palestinians or Iraqis?

    While I do not subscribe to the idea that the Israeli-Pakistinian dispute is the lynchpin to to peace in the Middle East, it still remains clear that a peace is needed for the long term stability of the world and is in the best interests of all the world’s peoples.

    That an activity, prior to the election, perpetrated by terrorists may one again have affected the elections as is assumed in Spain should also be of some concern.

    Does a terrorist act of some sort in a grand scale mean that’s how we’ll determine all elections in the future?

    Then hyperbole and terrorism will indeed have replaced reason.

  23. Andrew, this is the usual from you – long on criticism, zippo on proposed alternatives that are workable.

    Do you have any idea how many troops it takes to protect a country’s power lines? A quick review of that statement demonstrates its basic foolishness. We’re in a war. Deal with it. The U.S. Army is, by recruiting local Iraqis and training them as in-place guards. There have been some successes and failures along the way, as there always are. Some of us disagreed with the move to demobilize the Iraqi army instead of assigning them tasks like this (though I’m sure that would have had its own kinks too). But it’s done now and the question in a war is how to move forward, not how to whine that life is unfair. Like I said, it’s a regional war… and yes, we knew that going in. The questions are whether America has the will to win, and what needs to be done instead to improve things.

    As for the Europeans, they were a little bit busy doing backroom deals with Saddam, and taking his kickbacks (as they’re also doing now in Iran). Or hadn’t you noticed? Uncle Sam took away the cushy deals instead of caving and doing backroom dances with Saddam like they do, and guess what – some of them are annoyed.

    Why people like you expect more help from them than we have received is frankly beyond me. Especially given their questionable record re: Afghanistan’s reconstruction aid.

    Finally, as for the difficult state of Iraqi society right now (Hitch has a great article about this in Slate re: things he has changed his mind about re: Iraq), are you suggesting that it would have been better to have left Saddam in charge? That seems to be the logical conclusion based on your content and tone.

    Step and spit it out – should we have left Saddam in charge, yes or no?

  24. Mr. Russert: “If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?”

    Vice President Cheney: “Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.”

    – Meet the Press,March 16,2003

    “..Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

    President Bush’s speech to the country,March 17,2003.

    I’ll leave to each and every one to decide whether the above statements are evidence of lies or just plain self-deception.

    However,given that:

    – Saddam Hussein had no WMD and..

    – the war that was sold as Liberation of France Redux has turned into something more violent than the occupations of either Germany or Japan,who at least had declared war on the United States beforehand.. should be no surprise that some us (well,me) are having second thoughts about the whole war.Really,how can you trust the Bush administration to do the right thing now,when they can’t even own up to past mistakes?

  25. “[D]aily life is actually worse than it was under Saddam…”

    I think this is the crux of our disagreement.

    I’m sure you’re aware of Iraqi polls that have consistently shown they prefer life now to life under Saddam and that they believe life will improve over time; so your assertion, if meant to be a claim about actual Iraqi preferences, is false. This makes sense, given that the majority of Iraqis no longer face mass torture, rape and genocide at the hands of a mad dictator.

    No US administrator, or anyone who supported the war, suggested “everyone would be grateful and everything would work out (under President Chalabi)”. If you disagree, please provide proof.

    In fact, proponents of the war said that (1) brave soldiers and innocent Iraqis would die in the war (2) we would be welcomed as liberators by the majority of Iraqis (3) a minority of Iraqis would never accept a democratic Iraq and would fight to regain their former absolute power (4) we would face a long, hard task in rebuilding Iraq with opposition from many sources inside and outside the country and (5) Iraqis would want to end the occupation quickly and would want a return of their political autonomy. Statements 1-5 have all, more or less, come true. Attempts by the left to re-write history in order to falsify pro-war claims and make it appear that leftists were predictively correct might have worked 15 years ago, but new media now makes this Orwellian project impossible. So don’t bother.

    Again, I am more than a little confused by your constant emphasis on the loss of Iraqi creature comforts. Are you suggesting that Iraqis would prefer to be comfortable slaves than unsettled, umcomfortable free men & women? Would you prefer this? My dog is comfortable and well-fed, but he is a dog nonetheless.

    Does freedom of religion, freedom of thought and political freedom count for anything in your hierarchy of needs? If it does count for something, how much does it count for? Where do you rank it?

    Leftists always claim to strive for human dignity and equality, and yet I’m often suspicious that, when it comes down to it, they really mean, at best, contented obedience and, at worst, slavery.

  26. Andrew Lazarus,

    Excuses come and go, but our failure to restore pre-war levels of electricity endures. If it’s the insurgency (likely enough), then why don’t we have enough troops to protect the power lines and generating stations?

    Excuses come and go?!? That’s a nice way to put describe the elephant in the room. An analogy might be you describing the Israeli inability to produce peace and leaving terrorism as the elephant in the room (likely enough) as the excuse that comes and goes. In fact, based on our previous discussions at LGF, I don’t doubt that you would make that sort of case. I’m sorry, but in January there was no reason to expect that Al-Sadr’s Iranian backers would push him to rise against the US. While planning for that sort of exigency may have occurred, I think we can all agree that when Iran’s hand shows up overtly in Iraq, there are slightly more important things to work on than the electrical situation. It is absurd to not de-prioritize the electrical situation under the circumstances; I can’t imagine any rational authority doing otherwise. Also, given the sort of attacks that have occurred against contractors – including security contractors – it might well be a case of misplaced priorities to protect the power lines and generating stations instead of eliminating the folks who might be attacking those same stations or the contractors who would (re-)build them.

    You have merely restated the fact that we are far from success, not in any way refuted it.

    No, I didn’t merely restate the fact. I explained the fact. I wasn’t aiming to refute the facts (sort of an absurd thing to do) but instead was aiming to explain why that was the case.

    As far as the profits, I find something a little curious in my tax money going to this project.

    What exactly bothers you about it? That it goes to for-profit corporations? Are you aware of the margin that those evil, mercenary, etc., for-profit corporations are earning in Iraq? I recall seeing a figure of around 1% for Halliburton; for comparison purposes, a healthy industry earns about 20% net profit margins while the most competitive industries (e.g. retail) are around 1-2%. Granted, there’s a rather large sum of money to bid for and those corporations are certainly making money – or they wouldn’t do it – but it’s not as though they’re gouging the American taxpayer.

    I would rather have seen the Europeans who were blackballed, who might have been able to supply necessary spare parts faster,

    Not all Europeans were blackballed. And I’m not exactly sure why the French, for example, who assuredly stole vast amounts of Iraqi wealth through the Oil-for-Palaces program should be given a chance to earn a profit (however small) at the US taxpayers’ expense. If the US puts up the funds, the US should be able to decide exactly to whom they want to give the funds.

    If the French wanted to put up funds for Iraqi reconstruction and decided to exclude American corporations, I would find that perfectly reasonable.

    I’m curious as to what the source is for your conjecture about the blackballed European corporations being able to get spare parts to Iraq faster, even assuming they had the volition to do so. Perhaps, for example, you could do a comparison of the average days in the supply chain for American vs. blackballed European versions of Bechtel. I know that in most financial metrics (e.g. DSOs), European countries underperform their American counterparts; perhaps that’s not true for supply chain, but this would be the first I’ve heard of it.

    and Iraqis working on this project and finishing it faster.

    Umm, Iraqis are working on it and have been since day one. I recall reading an article which said that Iraqis were very good at improvising temporary solutions and finding creative uses for spare parts; this apparently manages to hold things together at some level. OTOH, the American corporations were generally seen as better at doing long-term fixes and long-term solutions to Iraqi problems – they tended to build solid, modern solutions. And their soultions tended to improve the overall situation rather than maintaining the status quo.

    The idea that we can dawdle our way to reconstructing Iraq both physically and politically and our timetable doesn’t matter is fallacious.

    Of course dawdling isn’t good. Many mistakes have been made, from having a giant Iraqi Governing Council – 26 members making a decision? – to not cracking down on Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi infiltrators. Unfortunately, I’m sure that you would oppose any remedy to these sorts of circumstances, or at least many of your fellow travelers would – and thus the situation that we’re in now, thanks to Bush always trying to go to the middle ground instead of doing what’s right.

  27. Step and spit it out – should we have left Saddam in charge, yes or no?

    Wow, Mr. Katzman. Been taking sophistry lessons from Sean Hannity or something? What exactly are the ramifications of a “yes” reply here?

    By the way, from me you can get a big and resounding, YES.

    … for now, until we can marshall the support we need here at home and abroad. Here at home, that means conducting a moderate domestic policy that eschews big tax cuts (in preperation for war) and big corporate giveaways. It also means trying to create a more convivial atmosphere- one needed to take the country to war. Abroad it all comes down to Palestine/Israel, and choice of rhetoric. There is absolutely no reason we should give Saddam, Bin Laden, or especially Kim Jong-il the benefit of our focused rhetorical attention. Even if US policy is to be conducted in the most unilateral of ways, our language should be supportive of the UN, France, and all of the “Axis-of-weasel”. Meanwhile the UN should be stymied and vetoed in a non-confrontive manner that doesn’t provide ammunition for our enemies, nor clarify already existing antagonisms.

    As far as policy is concerned, good stuff already exists on the books- it justs needs more consistency from us- this means aggresively supporting Israel’s right to defence while simultaneously pressuring them to get rid of all settlements in Gaza and almost all in the West Bank. US policy would be much more coherent if we showed the Arabs we weren’t interested in creating any sort of “Greater Israel”.

    I thought Kenneth Pollack made a great case for the war in The Threatening Storm. Sure parts of the WMD aspects were wrong (although I still believe there are some to be found), but I agree with the greater underlying arguement that “remaking” the Middle East is our only key to peace and that preemptive invasion can actually work to achieve this goal. Pollack advocates for an invasion several years down the road, though, and I’d have to agree with his first assessment.

  28. Jussi,

    - Saddam Hussein had no WMD and..

    No WMD have been found != Saddam had no WMD. Pacepa has written an article suggesting that the Russians may have been in Iraq to destroy Saddam’s WMD. Certainly, there are the pictures of trucks heading to Syria. The WMD’s that were to be used in Jordan came from somewhere, though it might not have been Iraq. In short, while it could well be that Saddam had no WMD, the case is not definitive. Certainly, it was the opinion of every Western intelligence agency (including the French one) that Saddam had them.

    - the war that was sold as Liberation of France Redux has turned into something more violent than the occupations of either Germany or Japan,who at least had declared war on the United States beforehand..

    First of all, Iraq had violated it’s cease-fire agreement with the US (from the close of the Gulf War) in innumerable ways, e.g. shooting at American planes patrolling the no-fly zones. De jure, a state of war existed between the parties.

    You should also note that the first few years of the occupation of Germany were hardly peaceful and there were many problems. The average ration for an adult was in the range of 500 kilocalories (the average person needs at least 2000). Many people pined for the “good old days” of Nazi rule; see, for example, the headline here from the Oct 22, 1945 NYT – “Reich Girls Want Return of Nazism”. The other articles linked there also put the lie to some of the points made.

    Japan was a slightly different case, though it was still an illusion that it was a “peaceful” occupation. In 1960, when the occupation ended, the Japanese had massive riots against the US-Japan Security Treaty. The only way that the Treaty passed the Diet (their Parliament) was that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP – which is neither liberal nor democratic) had the police forcibly remove the Socialists who were opposed to the treaty.

  29. OT

    A.L.- Have you seen Instapundit’s post yesterday on the “Silver Lining” (Abu Ghraib)? It seems like you and I (I’ve never met a bandwagon I didn’t want to jump on!) were ahead of the crowd.


  30. Joe, Frankly, at this stage we are confronted by a choice of very bad alternatives. It’s as if George Bush were playing a chess game, and he gave away his rooks by inattention or faulty planning, and when I point out “Bush is busted”, you say, “What’s the alternative?! So how would you save the game!?” And, just like chess beginners, you add, “But if he hadn’t taken the rooks I would have checkmated him.” I think we should have forced Saddam to accept permanent international weapons inspectors, and such other measures, such as revising the embargo, as we could have taken with the full support of the international community to ameliorate the lives of the Iraqis. This situation is not nearly as appealing as the pipe-dream of the democratic, pro-American, pro-Israel Iraq that the Administration entered the war with, but it does have the advantage of being realizable. Something realizable that’s bad has certain advantages over fantasies that are unattainable.

    We need some modification of that plan now. First, we should apologize (probably pretty loudly) to the UN and our allies for snow-jobbing them in the run up to war. Then we should accept whatever transitional government that Brahimi can cobble up. We should have a timetable to get our troops out (abandoning the Administration/WoC dream of American military installations situated in Iraq as bases for carrying the War on Terror to Iran and Syria) as soon as some multinational force can police an election. We should be prepared for an Iraq every inch as anti-American (and anti-Israeli) as Saddam’s in foreign policy, but rather less brutal internally. (The dream of an Iraq willing to sell us oil, or permit us to take it, at less than world-market rates goes, too.)

    Liberals and conservatives, in my understanding of those words in the world, operate with an understanding of human nature and a sense of the limitations of the possible. The Iraq adventure was neither liberal nor conservative, but truly radical (I believe the preferred words were “bold” and “audacious”, as euphemisms for “reckless”). So was the Children’s Crusade.

    Mark, Were you frozen in ice and posted before catching up?

    (1) It turns out that we’re running torture chambers and rape rooms, in the same prison as Saddam. The extent of the abuse seems to grow daily. You seem to be under the impression that every single Iraqi had to worry every day about being executed. That’s not the way life was, which is why so many Iraqis are largely indifferent to which undemocratic overlord live under. As you yourself see, many of the Iraqis who say their lives have improved want us to leave. Now.

    (2) Electricity isn’t merely a creature comfort. No electricity implies no employment, greatly diminished personal security, no mass communications, and so on. But I gave it as an example: we haven’t restored telephone service to pre-war levels either, crime was rampant in much of the country for months (trading rape rooms for rape alleys), unemployment is endemic, and as I pointed out, reconstruction of the country was not seen as a particularly high priority, compared to things like punishing European companies by depriving them of contracts, with the exception of reviving the oil industry from which we expected to profit, and whose ministry was the only building we saw fit to safeguard after the fall of Baghdad. Even now we don’t have the troops to safeguard Saddam’s arms depots, and looters continue to hunt through the rubble of public buildings like ministries, libraries, and hospitals whose functioning is essential for the restoration of Iraqi society. Frankly, if we needed to bring back the draft and send 400K soldiers to Iraq, if that was the minimum that would be needed to win the peace as well as the war, then that’s what we should have done. It’s not as if Saddam really had WMD that he could already deliver on an hour’s notice, even though Tony Blair claimed that, that the threat was that imminent. But that would have required real political leadership.

    (3)It is both astonishing and outrageous that in this era of Google, you accuse me of re-writing history and don’t check your own claims. Here is a National Review article from last week that the root of our failures in Iraq comes from not trusting Chalabi enough, that we should have sent the Kurds and a force of 10,000 Iraqi exiles (none of whom turned up) instead of our own troops. Here is an an article from April of 2003 [my emphasis]:

    For the time being, retired Lieut. General Jay Garner will be in charge as he puts his Pentagon-assembled team of 200 U.S. officials in command of Iraq’s day-to-day affairs. But the Bush Administration and, in particular, Pentagon hard-liners want to crank up a new government at a lightning pace so U.S. forces can hand off authority to Iraqis before occupation becomes a dirty word.

    Garner said he hoped to do that in 90 days. But even Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the authors of the U.S. plan and a staunch champion of Chalabi, acknowledged that the process could take six months or more. It’s already messy. Hours after the northern city of Kirkuk fell to the Kurds, dozens of political rivals opened shop, spray painting their party initials on walls and posting gunmen at their doors.

    Afterwards, Garner, a sadder but wiser man, was singing a different tune.

    Here’s an article on the expectations we had, which you’ll see have nothing to do any long, hard tasks.

    The White House wanted to believe that it could get away with a relatively quick in-and-out operation because American soldiers, Vice President Cheney predicted, “will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” The bad guys—the worst of Saddam’s Baathist Party—would flee or surrender, but a large middle-class “Mesopotamian bureaucracy” would remain in place to run the country. This notion was pushed by a band of Iraqi exiles, most notably Ahmad Chalabi, who have close ties to the Pentagon neocons—and who stood ready to step in and fill the leadership void. Within a few months, it was hoped, American forces could be drawn down to no more than 50,000 troops. [Actually, the plan was 30,000 –AJL]

    Had enough yet? Here’s the number two guy at DoD, Wolfowitz, last year. [my emphasis].

    The Administration was remarkably adept at muffling its own internal tensions. On only two occasions did dissenting views become public. The first was on the subject of money: a reporter from the Wall Street Journal quoted Lawrence Lindsey, the President’s chief economic adviser, floating a figure of up to two hundred billion dollars for the war and the reconstruction. This was at odds with the Administration’s projection—stated publicly by Vice-President Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—that the cost of reconstruction would be largely covered by Iraqi oil revenue. By April, the White House had requested only $2.4 billion for postwar rebuilding.

    The second rift was over troop deployment. In February, General Eric Shinseki, the Army’s chief of staff, testified before the Senate that the occupation of Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops. This prediction prompted Wolfowitz to get on the phone with Thomas White, the Army Secretary. “He was agitated that we in the Army didn’t get it,” White recalled. “He didn’t give arguments or reasons. Their view was that it was going to go the way they said it was going to go.” Two days later, Wolfowitz appeared before the House Budget Committee and said that so high an estimate was “wildly off the mark.” He explained, “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his Army. Hard to imagine.”

    He doesn’t know any more now, when asked he was off by 30% low on US casualties to date. Amazing! From the same article [my emphasis]:

    To this day, key policymakers maintain their faith in the Pentagon’s original plan. According to a senior Administration official, not long ago in Washington, Cheney approached Powell, stuck a finger in his chest, and said, “If you hadn’t opposed the I.N.C. and Chalabi, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” But one Pentagon official acknowledged that his agency was responsible for the debacle. “It was ridiculous,” he said. “Rummy and Wolfowitz and Feith did not believe the U.S. would need to run post-conflict Iraq. Their plan was to turn it over to these exiles very quickly and let them deal with the messes that came up. Garner was a fall guy for a bad strategy. He was doing exactly what Rummy wanted him to do. It was the strategy that failed.”

    And to this I must add that it was only yesterday that Gen. Abizaid admitted the obvious: the advertised reduction in American troop strength in Iraq this year won’t take place. So, what the f— are you talking about? We were so far away from reality that this announcement came yesterday! Do I also need to provide cites that the earth is round? In summary, of your five numbered points, (2) is false, and although (4) and (5) are true, they are the opposite of the Administration’s pre-war statements (which, therefore, were not true).

    Re-writing history indeed! Take your head out of your ass before you talk to me about Leftists and slavery again.

  31. Andrew,

    You can’t expect that quoting from 2 or 3 articles proves your case that (a) we have failed in Iraq in moral or poltical sense and (b) Iraqis were better off under Saddam. You are trying to create the impression that there was some grand conspiracy to install Chalabi as a dictator and then walk away, or at least expect everything to be wonderful. (How many times did Bush say we face a long and difficult task in rebuilding Iraq?) I have no doubt that Chalabi worked hard to increase his standing with certain US departments, but the bottom line is the Coalition could hardly install another tyrant in Iraq, leave and claim victory, particularly given that the US Administration said *before the war* that democratization was a goal of the project.

    I don’t know what to make of your obsession with Chalabi or alleged dissenting opinions within the administration. Plans change, opinions vary, views differ. None of this proves what you seem to think it proves – that we are in a disaster. You have provided no compelling evidence that Iraq is going up in flames, interrupted phone service and low electricity rates notwithstanding. Nor do your quotes even address my previous statements 1-5.

    I searched your post, as always, for an acknowledgement that the freedoms now enjoyed by the majority of Iraqis are worth something – anything – to you. Nothing; not one mention of basic common decency now enjoyed by Iraqis to live, work, think and worship as they please. I can only conclude that you either place no value on these things or that you could care less if anyone beside yourself enjoys them. Your worldview is dark indeed.

    I think you gave us a hint of your views with this: “You seem to be under the impression that every single Iraqi had to worry every day about being executed. That’s not the way life was..”

    Not only is this dubious at best (see any Iraqi weblog for a description of life under Saddam), it also suggests that you would be content if only a great many people lived like slaves or had to fear summary execution. You and I differ, however: I think this state of affairs should not be tolerated by the West, and we should try to change it if we can.

    And if you find my discussion of slavery uncomfortable, you could at least attempt to convince me that it actually matters to you in any meaningful way.

    I’m not going to trade petty insults with you, so either address my arguments or concede that you have no more to make.

  32. So far, I have provided four or five examples of Administration officials before the war promising it would be easy (“greeted as liberators”). I could have supplied dozens more, time permitting. I have provided numerous and specific examples showing that official estimates of how many troops would be needed and for how long were not at all consistent with a long, hard struggle. I have provided evidence from published on-the-record interviews and testimony that we expected to spend only a few billion dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq, while in fact we will spend ten or many more times that. I have pointed out that the announced troop rotation schedule called for a reduction in US forces in Iraq this year, right up until yesterday.

    If this is not evidence that we underestimated (badly) what we were getting into, would you please explain to me what such evidence would look like?

    Against this you say that President Bush promised us a long and difficult task in Iraq, and you have not even bothered to source this. I think you’ll find that before Iraq he promised us a long and difficult war against terror (and quite rightly so). He didn’t use this language about Iraq until it came and bit him in the rear end. So, yes, I would like to know how many times before the war Bush promised us a long and difficult war in Iraq. I say, “Zero.” Your turn.

    Since you are interested in specific numbers, I claim that your statement (4) is false, insofar as you state that proponents of the war said this beforehand, and you can refute my claim with sourced quotes. You have not done so. I have provided many quotes that show exactly the opposite. I claim your (2) is false, insofar as proponents of the war did say so before hand, but except for the Kurdish areas, it has proven largely untrue. You are welcome to present polls or other evidence in your favor. (You have a very peculiar concept of the burden of proof.) Your statement (5) is correct, insofar as Iraqis want that and that proponents of the war want that, but it’s a bizarre claim to rehearse, as whatever our intentions were, quick restoration of Iraqi autonomy did not take place. We have no government to give power to on June 30, and in any event we intend for whatever we cobble up to be a puppet regime without true sovereignty. In other words, we were unable to perform (5), and that is evidence of our failed strategy.

    Now, as to you general tone, you have internalized, perhaps inadvertantly, the standard techniques of the con man. Proponents of the quack anti-cancer “remedy” Laetrile are encouraged to tell prospective customers that chemo poisons, radiation burns, and surgery disfigures. Against these dark medical worldviews of the ordinary doctors, we juxtapose the easy cure of Laetrile. True, it’s expensive, but isn’t it worth it? No, it isn’t worth it, because the promised cure is unattainable. This wonderful new Iraq you are dreaming of is not currently attainable through any remedy available to us. What we have now is a quagmire of American occupation troops, stuck there indefinitely, in a long, hard struggle whose most favorable outcome is probably, as I indicated before, an undemocratic and anti-Western regime somewhat less brutal (and therefore better) than Saddam, for which outcome we will have suffered thousands of our own casualties, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis who will not see this dawn, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars. No, that will not have been worth it. You can say that’s cruel of me, just as the Laetrile shill says it’s cruel of the doctors to tell a patient there is nothing more they can do, when instead they can squander their remaining savings on worthless “medicine”. Your dichotomies are all false, Mark.

  33. Andrew Lazarus,

    You can feel free to respond to my earlier post if you’d like.

    From your new post:

    This wonderful new Iraq you are dreaming of is not currently attainable through any remedy available to us. What we have now is a quagmire of American occupation troops, stuck there indefinitely, in a long, hard struggle whose most favorable outcome is probably, as I indicated before, an undemocratic and anti-Western regime somewhat less brutal (and therefore better) than Saddam, for which outcome we will have suffered thousands of our own casualties, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis who will not see this dawn, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars.

    Supposing we accept your statement to be true, and given the murderous hatred for the US held by many in the Arab world (as evidenced by 9/11 and its celebrations, the Cole, the response to the attack on the contractors in Fallujah, and innumerable other events), what’s your solution? What exactly should the US do?

    Should we pay the Arabs off? We’ve tried that for almost thirty years and are now accused of propping up the dictatorships in the various countries.

    Should we trade with them and hope (really hope) that that influences them to democratize? We’ve tried that with China for about three decades and the Europeans have tried it for about as long with Iran. Certainly the Saudis are no force for moderation and we’ve been trading with them for ages.

    Given that you believe that the US should not attack the various despots (based on your reaction to the Iraq situation), should not pay off the dictators (as evidenced by history), should not hope that everything works (as evidenced by history), what exactly should the US do to prevent even more attacks against Americans?

  34. “…Administration officials before the war promising it would be easy (“greeted as liberators”).”

    The first problem here is that the claim “promising that we would be greeted as liberators” and that “it will be easy to rebuild/democratize Iraq” are 2 distinct claims. The first was made by officials and is true. The second was not made by officials (as far as I know) and is false. If you disagree, please provide relevant quotes from actual US officials. Please note the distinction between the two claims when quoting from sources.

    “I think you’ll find that before Iraq he promised us a long and difficult war against terror (and quite rightly so). He didn’t use this language about Iraq until it came and bit him in the rear end. So, yes, I would like to know how many times before the war Bush promised us a long and difficult war in Iraq. I say, “Zero.” Your turn.”

    First, your attempt to wriggle out of the problem by engaging in semantic subterfuge won’t work. Proponents of the war, and Administration officials, have long maintained that the war in Iraq is part of the wider war on terror. I know you understand this because you participated on a thread here in which the theory of Iraqi and ME democratization was explicitly tied to the reduction in ME terror. You chose to disagree with this theory, but you at least acknowledged that it was the prevailing Administration view.

    [Bush also explicitly tied democratization with the war on terror on May 1, 2003 (“The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 — and still goes on.” at )

    More importantly, though, and contrary to your revisionist interpretation, US officials promised us a long and difficult task of rebuilding & democratizing Iraq both before, during and after the war.

    Again from May 1, 2003:

    “We have difficult work to do in Iraq.” (ibid).

    From Apr.3, 2003.

    “Building a free and prosperous Iraq after the regime is gone will require — will be the work of the Iraqi people for years to come. And they will have our help.” (at )

    Bush on Mar.1, 2003:

    “Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own. We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before — in the peace that followed World War II. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies; we left constitutions and parliaments.” and further “It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war. Yet the security of our nation and the hopes of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard.”

    (at )

    From Bush and Blair on Apr.8, 2003:

    “Coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as necessary to help the Iraqi people to build their own political institutions and reconstruct their country, but no longer.” (at )

    Bush on Apr.12, 2003:

    “The conflict continues in Iraq, and our military may still face hard fighting.” (at )

    Bush on Mar.19, 2003:

    “[H]elping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.” (at )

    Bush to Cabinet on Mar.22, 2003:

    “A campaign on harsh terrain in a vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable, and free country will require our sustained commitment. Yet, whatever is required of us, we will carry out all the duties we have accepted.” (at )

    I could go on, but I think it’s untenable, in view of these and other quotes, for you to conclude that US officials said achieving a stable, free Iraq was going to be a cakewalk, either before, during or after the war.

    The thrust of your comments suggest that it was possible to know beforehand what one needed to rebuild Iraq (and because the US was negligent in this regard, it is at fault for the alleged “failure” now). This is silly, and US officials recognized that plans would change depending on the situation of Iraq:

    Condi Rice on Apr.4, 2003 –

    “To a large extent, the means to these goals [rebuilding Iraq] will depend on things outside our current control. We do not know, for instance, what damage Saddam Hussein’s regime may inflict on the Iraqi people in the regime’s last gasps. We do not know what we’ll find on the ground once the regime is gone — for instance, the condition of Iraqi natural resources or its infrastructure. And we haven’t yet heard from millions of Iraqis who are currently not free to voice their concerns. We are, however, committed to working with all Iraqis to implement a vision of a free Iraq.” (at )

    I note that you still refuse to comment upon, let alone value, basic freedoms now enjoyed by Iraqis in your evaluation of conditions in Iraq. Since you evidently hold these freedoms to be relatively worthless, perhaps you might explain why you believe you and I are entitled to exercise them, as we both are doing at this every moment, but Iraqis are not. Or perhaps you believe that neither you nor I are entitled to them?

    Please explain how calling me a con man and analogizing with medical fraud qualifies as reasoned argument.

  35. I confess to being a bit beguiled by your “con man” routine, and I didn’t notice this little tidbit:

    “This wonderful new Iraq you are dreaming of is not currently attainable through any remedy available to us. What we have now is a quagmire of American occupation troops, stuck there indefinitely, in a long, hard struggle whose most favorable outcome is probably, as I indicated before, an undemocratic and anti-Western regime somewhat less brutal (and therefore better) than Saddam, for which outcome we will have suffered thousands of our own casualties, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis who will not see this dawn, and spent hundreds of billions of dollars.”

    This has all the right buzzwords (“quagmire”, “tens of thousands of casualties”, etc.), and coheres well enough with the predictions of anti-war leftists. Except that none of it qualifies as an argument. It is composed entirely of unfounded assertions.

    Why isn’t a free and democratic Iraq attainable? We aren’t told. Why is it probable that the outcome will be an undemocratic and anti-Western regime? Again, we aren’t told. Why is it likely that Coalition troops will be in Iraq indefinitely? Again, no reason.

    Does this seem like persuasive reasoning to you, Andrew? Do you expect anyone to read it and think “Damn, even though Andrew offered no reasons for his doomsday scenario, I am so totally convinced”?

  36. Ariel, sorry, you’ll have to wait a few hours while I do my day job.

    Mark, I just knew you were going to tell me that since the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror (it isn’t, but for the sake of argument let’s assume it is), that somehow means that the claims the war on terror would be long and difficult imply that the particular part of the war in Iraq would be, too. That’s just wrong. There’s no reason that each particular stage of a compound project inherits the properties of the whole, in the absence of a separate claim.

    Likewise, phrases like “We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.” may sound glorious, but they’re meaningless. The “necessary” could be the ten years it looks like now, or it could have eight months like the Administration suggested back then, and then it’s time for “not a day more”. These aren’t statements of expectation of a hard struggle, in fact, they are circumlocutions intended to sound tough while not specifying the level of commitment and sacrifice necessary. (Has there been any other long, hard struggle that started out with a record tax cut?)

    Here’s another one of your quotes, with my emphasis added: “Building a free and prosperous Iraq after the regime is gone will require — will be the work of the Iraqi people for years to come. And they will have our help.” An indefinte occupation is a funny kind of help. I don’t think the average person, on hearing this, would expect that.

    Every single objectively testable statement the Administration made about the expense, duration, or staffing necessary for the conflict was wrong. Only vague hot air rhetoric is left.

    Now, as far as those freedoms. Very clever debating tactic, but it doesn’t make any more sense than asking why if I’m against poverty, I don’t give give all my money away to a charity. Your entire argument assumes its conclusion that some combination of American money, American lives, American will and commitment, and magical mumbo-jumbo will in fact deliver large quantities of freedom to the Iraqi people. I don’t buy that, any more than some combination of protocols is sure to cure third world poverty or cancer. People don’t deserve wretched poverty or cancer, either. If I argued that unless you support massive aid programs to the third world, it shows you don’t value material comforts and should give up your own possessions,is nuts. But it’s exactly the argument you make, that failure to support your doomed crusade to reform the Middle East at terrible cost indicates a lack of appreciation for democratic freedoms.

    Or perhaps I could ask why our military isn’t in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the freedom situation is no better (probably worse) than Iraq. What will happen in practice in Iraq is that we will bring Iraqis civil war, or Iranian style Shia theocracy, or maybe another military tyrant with better manners. And when some grown-ups come along, tote up the expense in blood and treasure and say that messianic playtime is over, all the millenialists will be there accusing them of sympathy to slavery (that’s reasoned argument, yeah).

    [PS– just noticed your followup. It’s hard to prove mathematically that we won’t be able to establish a democracy in Iraq, but we’re looking at a country with no history of democracy, deep ethno-religious divisions, a secessionist movement in the north opposed elsewhere, an active religious movement disdainful of democracy, massive corruption and graft related to a principal source of income (namely, oil and related contracts), and which is still in a state of disorder with various armed militias of doubtful commitment to democracy. Nothing in the year since the fall of Saddam suggests that he was just keeping the lid on a democratic movement ready to assume power (i.e., not Poland or most of the rest of ex-Communist Europe), or that there’s any significant democracy-minded faction, at all. Nothing in Afghanistan, all but Kabul reverted to the warlords or in chaos, elections postponed and central government feckless suggests we have much talent at bringing democracy into the Middle East, either. It’s like my asking you to prove I can’t beat Garry Kasparov at chess: you can’t prove but it sure wouldn’t be the way to bet.]

  37. Amazing when the verbal excrescences are scraped off Lazarus’s purple prose all that is left is “Left”
    Invasion wrong.
    Invasion a failure.
    Friends alienated.
    Get Europe involved.
    Get the UN involved.
    Just tell us you’re posting the “List”,saves us wading through this miasma of crap.

  38. Mr. Uk (10:23pm),

    Re. Andrew Lazarus’ comments, you wrote Just tell us you’re posting the “List”, saves us wading through this miasma …

    The good thing about the WoC threads is that they aren’t rah-rah echo chambers of one side or another. Re-read AJL here; he is making substantive arguments, and has gone to some trouble to provide links to quotes. Quotes that speak to the issues being debated.

    I disagree with Lazarus’ conclusions on Iraq, for reasons I won’t repeat here; I too have a day job to do. However, I respect his approach. He’s bringing up the very concerns that those of us who favored the war had to worry about during its run-up, and have to worry about now.

    That said, less name-calling by AJL, Mark, and Ariel would be appreciated. Hard enough to see a way forward without making the political that much more personal.

  39. “Every single objectively testable statement the Administration made about the expense, duration, or staffing necessary for the conflict was wrong.”

    Hold on a minute. Before, you challenged me to provide you with quotes proving the Administration maintained that the rebuilding & democratization of Iraq would be a long, difficult task. I did so. Now you tell me the Administration made statements that were wrong, and demonstrably so. You’re moving the goalposts.

    I will concede that some statements made by US officials regarding specific plans for Iraq have turned out to be wrong. I would be surprised if this was otherwise. But this does not prove what you think it proves. It doesn’t prove that we will fail, or have failed, or that there was no plan. It proves that particular estimates and speculation was wrong. (We can argue about how much difficulty this creates for the Coalition, but I expect we’d differ on that as well.)

    “Your entire argument assumes its conclusion that some combination of American money, American lives, American will and commitment, and magical mumbo-jumbo will in fact deliver large quantities of freedom to the Iraqi people.”

    I don’t assume my conclusion at all. My argument is that your evaluation of Iraq is wrong; basic freedoms are valuable and already exist in Iraq at this moment, more or less, as a result of the liberation, and that this is a moral and political good. To the extent that you refuse to properly value these positive results, your analysis of post-war Iraq is faulty.

    As evidence of this, I point to the existence of an actual free press (see Baghdad newspapers, TV stations, market for satellite dishes, etc), freedom of thought & expression (see Iraqi weblogs, journalist interviews with regular Iraqis, public marches and rallies) & freedom of religion (see recent Shia religious festivals). If you would like me to go through the boring task of sourcing all this, let me know.

    As for evidence of the value of these freedoms, I point to the desire of most people for personal freedom over slavery, if given the choice. I’m not sure Iraqis are much different than you or I in this respect. Iraqi polls have shown that only a small minority favour anti-democratic (Islamic) rule. If you want further sourcing for this claim, please advise. (I suppose I could point to the manifest desire of everyone who has ever lived in a marxist hellhole to not want to live in a marxist hellhole, but you’d probably tell me they were labouring under “false consciousness”.)

    The fact that you dismiss claims about the value of freedom as a “clever debating tactic” is rather revealing. People fought and died for this freedom. Are you suggesting they did so only for a “clever debating tactic”?

    “What will happen in practice in Iraq is that we will bring Iraqis civil war, or Iranian style Shia theocracy, or maybe another military tyrant with better manners.”

    Interesting conclusion, again with no argument to back it up. If you haven’t noticed, many non-leftists aren’t convinced that we have failed or will fail in Iraq; hence, you are required to make arguments. These include conclusions *and* premises, all put together in a nicely valid way.

    “It’s hard to prove mathematically that we won’t be able to establish a democracy in Iraq…”

    I promise not to hold you to a mathematical standard. All I ask is that you prove why democracy in Iraq is not possible. You can begin by showing how your list of factors is causally related to the impossibility of democracy.

    Your list is as follows:

    (a) no history of democracy;
    (b) deep ethno-religious divisions;
    (c) a secessionist movement in the north opposed elsewhere;
    (d) an active religious movement disdainful of democracy;
    (e) massive corruption and graft related to a principal source of income (namely, oil and related contracts)
    (f) which is still in a state of disorder with various armed militias of doubtful commitment to democracy.

    For clarification, you should tell us if these factors are sufficient or necessary conditions for the impossibility of democracy (or both). After you’re finished, I (and anyone else who wants to have a go), will then try and find examples where your factors exist, yet democracy took hold. If we can do so, your argument will have failed, and you will concede defeat. Otherwise, I will. Sound fair?

  40. This thread seems to be going off on a tangent and it appears to be the same old tangent. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s a subject that can use all the discussion we can throw at it and this is a great forum for doing it. Once, again, thanks, Joe.

    However, I have a question that’s at least somewhat related to the tangent. What’s the minimum acceptable outcome in Iraq? I think we’ll all agree that an Iran-style theocracy would be unacceptable whether democratically elected on not. Or am I wrong?

    I can imagine a range of outcomes from establishing a full-fledged liberal democracy to returning Saddam Hussein (or equivalent) to power and all points in between e.g. civil rights without democracy (limited monarchy).

    So what’s acceptable? Will your alternative have the beneficial effects proposed by the Bush Administration? i.e. a model for the region, etc.

  41. Dave,

    My minimum acceptable outcome is a full-fledged liberal democracy–Turkey would be a good basis of comparison for what I mean. The interim Iraqi Constitution looks like an excellent basis for this, and I hope that the non-interim Constitution is broadly similar.

  42. OK, I’m going to try to answer the pending challenges, employing the principle of charity in my interpretation of your arguments.


    I think Mark and I are simply talking about different things. To elaborate my claim,
    (1-AJL) The White House significantly underestimated the difficulty of the occupation, in particular, the cost, the duration, and the troop levels required. Moreover, the over-optimistic estimates were clearly communicated to the American people.

    I think Mark is making the different claim
    (1-M) The White House made an open-ended commitment to stay in Iraq as long as it takes.

    I concede that (1-M) is correct, but I don’t believe it refutes (1-AJL) in any way. As a rule, the specific is more important than the general. I provided many quotes of specific claims of the Administration about leaving Iraq by the end of 2003, about reconstructing Iraq for only $2 billion, etc. Phrases like “as long as it takes” are simply begging the question: How long will it take? Indeed, these statements, for all their flourishes, are almost empty in an information-theoretic sense. The probability that anyone would publicly declare their negations is zero (“If it’s hard we might quit”), which means that their public affirmation is meaningless. Moreover, such promises can only be understood in the context of the contemporaneous estimates—which I have shown were much too low.

    I don’t see why I can’t claim that we said it would be a cakewalk. Although Ken Adelman doesn’t hold any post in this Administration, he’s very close to it. And here’s some excerpts from his column of April 10, 2003, titled “‘Cakewalk’ Revisited”. All brackets added.

    On Feb. 13, 2002, I wrote a sleeper-cell op-ed for this page. It lay dormant, being virtually ignored, until springing to life more than a year later. Its title, “Cakewalk in Iraq,” contained that “c” word (also found in the piece), which was scantly speakable one week ago.
    The piece was “taking exception” to one of the host of fear-mongering articles then being put out, this by Brookings Institution analysts Philip H. Gordon and Michael E. O’Hanlon. They had concluded, among other dire warnings, that “the United States could lose thousands of troops” in any war in Iraq [getting there, aren’t we?].
    My confidence 14 months ago sprang from having worked for Don Rumsfeld three times — knowing he would fashion a most creative and detailed war plan — and from knowing Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz well for many years.

    See? Baghdad taken, everything is great. That was the Zeitgeist a year ago. Hard to remember those halcyon days, flushed with victory? Mission Accomplished? And that’s the Paul Wolfowitz who this week thought about 500 US soldiers had died (even Fox News has that better).

    As one last point, are you really trying to say that we were welcomed as “liberators”? Your own polls show that by now most Iraqis want us to leave. A most short-lived welcome, if it took place that way at all.


    To be honest, I think I’m shouting into an epistemic void here. If you explain to me what sort of evidence you would respect, I can try to provide it. Otherwise, we’re just yelling. It seems to me, though, that you face three of your own challenges here: (1) At what time and for what expenditure of American investment in blood and treasure do you concede the point, or at least the weaker point that the particular means we have adopted towards this end will not work? (2) Would you credit an argument that sufficient American foreign aid would eradicate hunger and poverty in (say) Haiti, and, if so, why are you not insisting that we make such a sacrifice? (3) To be honest, it seems to me that the original claim is so audacious, the burden of proof is on you to explain why democracy can be made to flourish as a consequence of war by an occupying army in the face of evident resistance. Of course, you may refer to Germany and Japan, but you must be honest in comparing our level of forces in Germany, and the retention of a near-intact civil society in Japan.

    To answer your specific question, I think we would have a fighting chance of establishing a liberal democracy if, say, only two of those conditions held, but it will be very hard in the face of all of them. South Korea, for example, was graft-ridden and had no tradition of democracy, but not the other points. Certainly any evaluation of the merits of the war should, insofar as it was a war of liberation and not self-defense against WMD, be discounted more or less heavily to reflect this difficulty, but instead the possibility that this wonderful outcome is possibility through sheer strength of will is taken for granted. Frankly, strength of will is overrated in international affairs.


    Ariel’s question is a very good one. First, I am not one of those Chomskyites who rejected the war against the Taliban. (I might point out that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is more useful to my argument against the possibility of establishing democracy by force of arms than for yours for it.) If Saddam had in fact been secreting WMD, or if he had provided material aid to Al Qaeda, my opinion of the Iraq War would likewise be different. But I found the attempt to sell it as a war of necessity mendacious and offensive. I supported the enhanced inspections regime that Bush forced Iraq to accept in 2002 (only later did he blunder, IMO). I very much support the stepped up police efforts to unravel Al Qaeda cells and cut off their financial resources. I think if we were so interested in democracy in the Arab Middle East, we should have started with an economic development program in Jordan, whose King is not unreceptive to constitutional monarchy, and some sort of enhanced elationship with Qatar, which is moving to democracy at the insistence of its own sheikh. Compared to war, we could have gotten a lot of bang for the buck there. I think we should have told the Israeli government that we were serious, that they could erect all the walls they want (maybe even assassinate all the Hamasniks they want, although I don’t think the policy does much for Israeli security), but there is to be an immediate end to settlement expansion and expropriation of Arab lands for settlement security. We’ve said that, but we don’t mean it. We should encourage oil conservation and alternative energy.

    In the final analysis, though, the idea of eradicating terrorism is as unrealistic as eradicating crime. (I believe Paul Bremer said much the same, before joining the Administration.) Instead of planning for its complete defeat, like WW2, we should be figuring out how to disrupt and frustrate the terrorists at the same time as we protect ourselves better (e.g., better border security).

    Incidentally, I’m willing to credit Iraq with some of the improvement in Libya, although the process had been going on for some time, but I don’t think it’s perfectly likely that this is balanced out by terrorist recruiting successes we don’t know of yet, and will find out the hard way.


    I think we should pray for something like the earlier days of the Iranian revolution, maybe a little better, before the mullahs became utterly power-mad and financially corrupt. Formally democratic, heavy theocratic influence, Sharia, but with better protection of minorities than Iran. Also, a unitary state, so the Turks aren’t unhappy


    I’d also like, not to endorse SAO’s comment of 4:59, but to say that I think it represents a much more responsible position than agreement with the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration is manifestly incompetent, and even people like George Will and Bob Kagan are starting to notice.

  43. Andrew Lazarus,

    So you believe, in essence, that the only method to coax Arabs into democracy is the carrot. There is no place for the stick in your world. (At least, that is the conclusion I can draw from your statement about how killing mass-murdering terrorists may not provide security for Israel. It’s like the befuddled newspapers which have reported a rise in prison populations “despite” a drop in crime instead of realizing that the former causes the latter.)

    What do you do if the carrot doesn’t work? As an example, consider the effect of almost thirty years of aid to Egypt. Have their been any salutary effects in moving Egypt closer to democracy? I seem to recall a recent case where the US tried to talk Egypt into releasing a professor imprisoned because he asked for basic human rights – and completely failing. This despite our $2B/yr donation to their coffers.

    Or consider the case of the PLO, which was fine with taking carrots for a while – almost a decade. Those carrots never produced democratic reform. Instead, the last carrot handed to an Arab party by Israel – withdrawal from Lebanon – was the impetus (as cited by the PLO itself) for the start of their terror war against Israel.

    One might even argue that handing carrots out willy-nilly in a culture where strength is respected might not be the most effective strategy, from a long-term perspective. Either we are seen as propping up the dictators (if they fail to reform – as in Egypt) or we are seen as weaklings who have to pay them off – in which case the attacks won’t stop.

    If you have evidence of a case where any country – Arab or not – democratized due to incentives, I’d love to hear of it. I’d guess that the carrots, in the absence of sticks, are even less likely to result in a democratic outcome than vice versa.

  44. Ariel, crime is down. Suicide bombings by Hamas are not. It’s not that I’m reflexively against all sticks, but that there isn’t that much evidence that this one works. Evidence, OTOH, that the Wall improves Israeli physical security is abundant. So, which is a better idea?

    The carrot of EU membership for Turkey has (1) resulted in abolition of the death penalty, for better or worse; (2) a shift towards political resolution of the Kurdish issue with much greater minority rights for use of the Kurdish language and culture; (3) caused them to abandon their rump state in Cyprus; and most important (4) forced the Turkish military into much less direct forms of interference in the political process than the naked coup. Yeah, I know Turkey isn’t Arab, but there aren’t many Arab democracies to talk about.

    I’m not a big expert on the self-democratization of Taiwan and South Korea, but I don’t think sticks were part of it. Any ideas?

    For bonus points, discuss what happened to the African colonies when the colonizers left, and explain why a Middle Eastern country that had been left with mere formal democracy wouldn’t go the same way.

    You see, I can come up with some pretty tough questions, too.

  45. “[A]re you really trying to say that we were welcomed as “liberators”?”

    Absolutely. I would have thought this was obvious from the video of celebrations in most cities and towns as Coalition passed through them on their way to drive out a vicious group of genocidal thugs. Despite attempts to downplay it, the major left networks couldn’t cover it up. Please don’t try and refute my claim by pointing out that the Coalition was not welcomed everywhere. I know this; it doesn’t help your claim that, generally, Coalition troops were not greeted as liberators.

    “Your own polls show that by now most Iraqis want us to leave.”

    This is just bait and switch. Most polls show that Iraqis want the US to stay in order to maintain security, but would like their sovereignty back, at which point they want the Coalition to leave. (Sounds reasonable, no?) The overwhelming majority do not want Saddam back. They are glad to be free of Saddam. Hence, they view themselves as being liberated. The Coalition was the agent of liberation. See crowds of cheering Iraqis. See crowds of Iraqis cheering deaths of Saddam offspring and Saddam’s capture. See also Firdos Square.

    I would think you would be hesitant to engage in revisionism about your own argument on a public forum where everyone could check for themselves, but since you insist, let’s take a look at what you wrote not several posts ago:

    First you said:

    “I would like to know how many times before the war Bush promised us a long and difficult war in Iraq. I say, “Zero.” Your turn.”

    Then I showed how this claim was incorrect using sourced quotes. Briefly, my quotes show that the Administration consistently maintained that the US was in for a long, difficult task in rebuilding and democratizing Iraq. I did not only prove that US commitment would be of an unknown duration (somewhere between “long” and “not permanent”), I proved that the Administration said the US was in for a difficult, tough job.

    Now, confronted with this problem, you revise your argument and say:

    “The White House significantly underestimated the difficulty of the occupation, in particular, the cost, the duration, and the troop levels required. Moreover, the over-optimistic estimates were clearly communicated to the American people.”

    The White House did not significantly underestimate the difficulty of the occupation. See quotes above. Although the White House’s estimates of costs and troop deployment were inaccurate, they were just estimates; it was acknowledged that the means to achieve the goals of stability and democratization would be subject to revision. See Condi Rice quote.

    Thus, as I said above, your claim that the US administration was incompetent, or that we’ve failed in Iraq, is unfair and unproven. We can debate about how their faulty estimates hurt stabilization and democratization in Iraq, but you must argue for your position with more than this.

    Re: Ken Alderman. I thought we were talking about the Administration’s position, rather than a journalist’s interpretation of the Administration’s position. Let’s stick to official sources, shall we.

    “[T]he burden of proof is on you to explain why democracy can be made to flourish as a consequence of war by an occupying army in the face of evident resistance.”

    Wait a minute: you made the argument (more of a series of assertions, actually) that democratization in Iraq is not possible or has failed. Now you’re trying to bolster your argument by stating “the burden of proof is on you” to prove that it is possible. You made the original negative claim; either prove it or admit that you can’t. Why are you asking your opponent to do the work you set out to do? Do your own homework.

    Surely you knew that when you made your controversial claims about our alleged failure in Iraq, Iraqi preference for Saddam and the impossibility of Iraqi democracy, your claims would be vigorously challenged. You must have had strong arguments ready to prove your points. So make them.

    I have had arguments with you in other threads where I demonstrated that Iraqi democracy is not only possible, but taking place. We can repeat the exercise here if you like, or you can just concede the point.

    I have asked you numerous times to properly address the issue of basic freedoms in your assessment of alleged Iraqi failure, but you have refused to do so. If you are hoping I’ll drop the issue, you’re mistaken; I see it as a major weakness in your position and I’ll continue to exploit it. Either admit that you don’t value these basic freedoms or concede that we haven’t failed in Iraq in an important respect.

  46. Mark, I suppose today’s supplemental $25 billion request is also part of the plan. The Imperial Japanese Army also used to explain that all its reversals were part of a grand plan. Likewise the Germans on the Russian Front.

    I repeat: all of the Administration’s blather about “long” was just rhetorical. Words like “long” and phrases like “as long as it takes” don’t indicate (one way or another) how long they expect it to take. That the Administration claimed that we would stay “as long as it takes” is obvious and tautological. WHo would ever say “We’ll bug out halfway through”?

    All the planning was for a much shorter, much cheaper war. Hence, it was reasonable to interpret “as long as it takes” in the context of the evident plans for how long we expected it to take. Even pro-war people have to abandon a claim like “The White House did not significantly underestimate the difficulty of the occupation.” because their estimates are a matter of public record. Two billion dollars for reconstruction. Eight billion bbl oil/year paying for reconstruction. Thirty thousand troops by 12/2003. A functioning Iraqi government within as little as three to six months. The American people heard and saw these preparations. Even up to this week, a reduction to 110K troops by 12/2004. Instead, troops forced to turn around at Kuwait Airport and go back. You want to tell me that was part of the plan: a U-turn at the airport? Face it, they blew it, big-time. Finding some fine-print disclaimer that they said “Our mileage may vary” doesn’t disguise this.

    Ken Adleman is not a journalist. He’s a former DoD official and was a member (with Richard Perle) of the Defense Policy Board, which is composed of civilians, but is an official body whose office is, I believe, in the Pentagon itself. In short, he’s a member of the Administration.

    You are putting words in my mouth in stating I claim Iraqis prefer Saddam: they prefer Saddam gone, and us gone. As far as the difficulty of democracy: what counts as evidence that it isn’t going to work, and how long do we keep going on into this Big Muddy until you give up? If there is absolutely nothing in this world that counts as evidence that we won’t be able to impose democracy in Iraq, then it’s not really worth discussing, at least with you, is it? Here’s a question: name one democracy that’s been founded in a place with pre-existing heavily-armed militias that do not like each other and a central government too weak to disarm them? I claim that democracy is unlikely to take root in a place where armed rebellion is so easy. I guess you could argue Lebanon is a democracy full of militias, but there are some drawbacks to that example.

    In what sense is Iraqi democracy taking place? We are no longer even having municipal elections, outside the pro-West Kurdish zone. Do you mean the scheduled elections? That’s very funny. If we come back a year from now and the elections haven’t taken place, you’ll point to the disclaimers from 2004 that we can’t be absolutely sure if the elections can be held as evidence that postponment is just part of the grand successful plan.

  47. Mark: just thought of a Gedanken-experiment.

    Iraq War requires full mobilization, conscription, quarter-million American fatalities, and costs $1 trillion.

    andy: Wow, the Administration really underestimated the difficulty of the war. And they didn’t say anything leading us to expect this mess.

    Mark: Oh yes they did, see, Condi said we would do whatever it takes.

    Do you see your problem? You’re treating the Administration’s disclaimers as absolute and out of context. Or are you really prepared to make the claim I attribute to you here?

  48. Mark & Andrew,
    I’ve been following your debate with interest, and though I’m not trying to step in here, I’d like to note a small revelation.

    If Mark is like me, he supports the idea of the Iraq war, independent of the Bush administration. If this is truly the case, then Andrew’s use of arguments that reduce to games of ‘gotcha’ with respect to the Bush administration are always going to fail. This is due to the fact that support of the war supercedes support for the Bush administration, and in fact exists seperately from it.

    There are some threads of your argument that deal with only the pros & cons of going to war. These are the ones that get to the meat of the disagreement upon which a could argument might add some spice.

    Discussions of the competence of the Bush administration should perhaps be taken elsewhere. It’s not clear to me that there can be a productive argument on this topic between the pro-war and anti-war camps Within each camp, yes. Between camps, no.

    Only for what it’s worth….

  49. Ariel wrote (5/5 11:21pm): AMac, Feel free to point out where I participated in “name-calling”.

    Ariel, I was wrong. My apologies for the baseless charge.

    Mark and Andrew Lazarus:

    Thanks for the continued back and forth on these issues. The quotes you recounted are consistent with my recollection of the Bush Administration’s position circa February 2003. I would summarize it as:

    1) The US military is likely to defeat the Iraqi Ba’athists with US deaths in the low hundreds, and US-caused Iraqi casualties at a very low level. Ba’athist-caused Iraqi casualties are not under US control.

    2) America will be greeted as a liberator.

    3) Iraqi reconstruction will be a difficult long-term project, but not hugely expensive to the American taxpayer. Post-war security will be one concern out of many. Iraqi society as a whole will cooperate with these efforts.

    4) War, liberation, and reconstruction will set the stage for Iraqis establishing a democratic state that is friendly to the US.


    (1) War. The Bush Administration was right. The absence of battlefield-ready WMDs and Ba’athist incompetence kept the death tolls down.

    (2) US greeted as liberators. As Mark points out, Bush was right in anticipating this. As AJL says, it was never universally felt, and didn’t last very long. Some elements of Iraqi society–Ba’athists and Wahibbi and Shi’a Islamofascists–are our enemies.

    (3) Reconstruction. The Bush Administration was deluded by pleasant fantasy, or willing to lie in the name of a Good Cause. Pick one. Or both. Rumsfield and Bush forced Eric Shinseki into retirement because he made his estimate of troop-strength requirements for the occupation on the basis of the job at hand, not on the basis of expediency and ideology. Few of the extensive criticisms made by Kenneth Pollack and James Fallows on postwar planning (Atlantic Monthly) have been convincingly refuted. A peeve: that the glib “flypaper strategy” theory could be floated without discussing its horrific implications shows how divorced from reality Bush’s team has been.

    (4) Democratic Iraq. The immense obstacles to liberal democracy are as AJL described them earlier in this thread. But if the prospects for Iraqi democracy are poor, the prospects for a country that is better-governed and more-prosperous than it was under Saddam are still promising. South Korea may be the most hopeful and instructive analogy. It emerged from the Armistice as a backward and war-ravaged country (half-country), and was run by a series of corrupt right-wing dictators for decades. Its economy improved during that time, and it has transformed itself into a functioning First-World democracy. Not one that is ideal, or that addresses all of its society’s flaws, or that is particularly pro-American. But by comparison with North Korea…

    AJL points out that a country full of armed groups that hate each other is a poor proving ground for democracy. He is–obviously–correct, and describing the current situation in Iraq. This does not mean that the problem is insoluble. It does make realist advocates of the war become progressively more worried as security problems persist and worsen. If (and only if) this and the other main security flaws (Syrian and Iranian interference, border control, al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism) can be addressed, there are still prospects for an Iraq that is much better than it would likely have been, had the 2003 invasion not taken place.

    AJL, my answer to your Gedanken: No. Not worth it.

    My comparator for acceptable costs for Iraq and Afghanistan is, as much as anything, the toll of 9/11 (3000 dead, tens of billions of dollars). Plus the discounted costs of future 9/11s. In my estimate, a successful Islamofascist small-nuke attack on a coastal US city in the next 5 years has declined, say from 40% to 20%.

    …But I wouldn’t expect you to agree with the assumptions that underlie this reasoning…

  50. Andrew,

    Some minor points:

    Re: Ken Adelman

    You said:

    “…Ken Adelman doesn’t hold any post in this Administration…”


    “In short, he’s a member of the Administration.”

    Perhaps I’m confused. Please explain how a person can be both a member and not a member of the administration.

    “In what sense is Iraqi democracy taking place? We are no longer even having municipal elections, outside the pro-West Kurdish zone.”

    The Kurdish areas of Iraq are part of Iraq. Democracy is taking place in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Therefore, democracy is taking place in Iraq. Unless and until you prove to me that the Kurdish areas are not part of Iraq, this argument proves that (1) democracy is possible in Iraq and (2) democracy is taking place in Iraq. So your claim that democracy is not possible or not occuring is false. If you disagree, please be specific about which premise you believe to be false, or why my reasoning is fallacious.

    If you want to make the argument that democracy is not occuring in Iraq *outside the Kurdish areas* and/or that it’s not possible in those other areas, then do so. I’ll make a counter-argument and we’ll see how it comes out.

    You seem to suggest that the terms of argument are unfair because you aren’t allowed to profer evidence of the failure of democracy. Let me be clear: you are quite welcome to bring forward any relevant evidence, and I’ll have to deal with it.

    My problem with your evidence so far is that all you’ve shown is that pre-war plans have changed. I proved to you that the Administration said the plan was provisional, uncertain and subject to change. I conceded that the plan has changed. We disagree on how wildly off the plan was, and how much damage this has done to the project. But – and this is crucial – I disagree that any of this shows that we have failed or will fail in Iraq. We may fail (I desperately hope we don’t), but if we do, it won’t be because the plan was revised. In fact, insofar as the new plan is better, we may succeed because the plan was revised. It’s like you’re trying to score a political point when you need to score a strategic point.

    “Here’s a question: name one democracy that’s been founded in a place with pre-existing heavily-armed militias that do not like each other and a central government too weak to disarm them?”

    I said earlier that I’ll accept your challenge re: the impossibility of democracy under certain conditions, but only if you fully explain each of the factors on your list and their causal relation to anti-democratic situations. If I attempt to refute your position with an example before you give us your complete explanation, I suspect that you’ll just point to the non-existence of some crucial listed factor. Since you made the claim about the impossiblity of Iraqi democracy to begin with, you should have no problem outlining the finer points of your reasoning.


    Your summary was helpful, although I disagree with your interpretation of the conditions in Iraq – particularly that it is as bad as old media would have us believe (though it is, of course, no picnic).

    I would consider it a failure if the Coalition accepted another anti-democratic ruler in Iraq now or ever, even as a provisional “solution”. I don’t expect nascent Iraqi democracy to be perfect, but faltering steps are better than no steps. Given that the entire world is watching, and the Coalition members have bet all their chips on this endeavour, we need to make Iraqi democracy stick, for moral and strategic, altruistic and selfish, reasons. Perhaps this is why I don’t get as exercised as Andrew about plan revisions and increasing costs.

  51. Mark wrote:

    I disagree with your interpretation of the conditions in Iraq – particularly that it is as bad as old media would have us believe.

    Actually I agree with you on this point. Much of major media’s primary mission is to persuade, secondarily to inform. “Persuasion” means convincing Americans that (1) US efforts in Iraq are a failure, and (2) Kerry should be elected in November. There are honorable exceptions to this shabby state of affairs, for example John Burns of the NYT. There are also elements that don’t fit this generalization, e.g. Fox, Wash. Times, NY Post.

    You might be interested to scan Randall Parker’s site A number of his essays discuss social obstacles to democracy not mentioned in this discussion, such as the Arab practice of cousin marriage.

  52. The Defense Policy Board is a kind of crazy hybrid, in that its members (Perle, Adelman are civilians, and they hold the position part-time. It’s not a DoD job, per se. On the other hand, the Board as a whole is an official creation, complete with Pentagon office, and I believe its members serve at the President’s pleasure. Hence, their pronouncements reflect official policy semi-officially.

    Now, as to causal relationships between my points and the difficulties in establishing democracy. Let’s just take one, complete with example: there are militias in Iraq organized largely around ethnic lines (although anything else clearly identifiable would serve), while the armed forces have been exploited by the group (Tikritis) who form the government. (While Iraq had universal conscription, the highest echelons of the army were disproportionately reserved for members of Saddam’s clan.) If the government is to have a “monopoly on violence”, which I would argue is one of the most important purposes to form a government in the first place, various feuding militias have to be disarmed (or significantly neutralized) and replaced with an army (+ police force, other units) that answer only to the lawful government. Given the amount of firepower in the hands of the militias already, either they will have to be persuaded to accede to this, or they will have to be defeated in a civil war in which we will be caught in the crossfire. (There’s a paradox, in which whichever side we favor as duly elected will probably lose its legitimacy precisely because such American approval will offend Iraqi nationalists who will withdraw their support.)

    We already have an exemplar for the Bush Administration’s approach to this problem: Afghanistan. Now, as is always the case, there are differences. Afghanistan is even harder because centralized authority was destroyed long ago, as opposed to last year, and because the number of tribal militias (warlords, if you will) is much greater than in Iraq. But from the point of view of creating democracy, Afghanistan is doing poorly. Some elections officials were murdered by terrorists just the other day. The central army numbers something like 8000 souls and is still riven by ethnic conflicts. The government does not attempt to collect taxes and duties in many parts of the country. It’s impossible to imagine any law passed by the central government (e.g., against heroin production) being enforced outside Kabul, except in the places that local warlords voluntarily agree. In other words, out of the sight of most of the world, when confronted with a similar task in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration has settled for undemocratic government, as long as they reject bin Laden and his new-found Afghan ally, Hekmatyar. Frankly, I expect we’ll have to settle for something similar in Iraq, very much less than London-on-the-Tigris.

  53. AJL:

    Hekmatyar is a new ally of bin Laden’s?

    Also (and as you know, I’m preparing a more substantive critique of your guest blog once finals are done), it is my understanding that a sizeable number of Southeast Asian political parties also do indeed possess their own paramilitary wings. I just thought I’d throw that into the militia argument because you stated that you were unaware of a nation other than Lebanon where democracy existed in the presence of such groups.

  54. Andrew,

    “[T]heir pronouncements reflect official policy semi-officially.”

    I think you’ve conceded that Adelman isn’t an Administration official, so perhaps we’ll just have to disagree about the import attached to his statements.

    I recognize that you believe the non-existence of armed militias to be necessary for democracy. And your explanation as to why it is important (“the state must have a monopoly on the use of force”) is also helpful.

    But your list was as follows:

    (a) no history of democracy;
    (b) deep ethno-religious divisions;
    (c ) a secessionist movement in the north opposed elsewhere;
    (d) an active religious movement disdainful of democracy;
    (e) massive corruption and graft related to a principal source of income (namely, oil and related contracts)

    If you can perform the same analysis on these factors, we might properly critique your argument. Kindly also indicate which factors are necessary or sufficient, or both.

    I don’t know much about Southeast Asian political parties, but Dan’s point certainly needs to be addressed.

    I note that the Italian mafia and other ethnic mobs exist today in most democracies as armed, organized groups that create and enforce their own laws. They even collect “taxes” in the form of protection/extortion money. Also, tribal rivalries, gang warfare and mob rule were prevalent in many US cities throughout the 1800s. I’m sure better historians than myself can provide more insight.

    Thus, it’s not clear that the non-existence of armed militias is a necessary condition for democracy.

  55. Sorry to be a buttinski, Mark, but I don’t get it.

    AJL’s points that you itemized above (armed militias, plus a through e) are each self-evident obstacles to liberal democracy.

    I would be shocked if Dan Darling (5:31am) takes the presence of militias in SE Asian countries as a sign of progress towards democracy.

    Likewise, the Mafia is rarely cited as an accomplishment of Italian (or US) democratic practice!

    Each of these is an issue of degree more than of kind. There are ethnic, regional, and religious divisions in most countries, for example. The more of these problems that exist, and the more severely they manifest, the worse for the society in question. And the worse for that country’s prospects at liberal democracy (as distinct from holding elections).

    These arguments were recently presented in some detail at the “Buggy Professor” website,

    Other insightful posts on the particular challenges to decent government in post-Saddam Iraq are present at

    I note that I was pro-war in early 2003, and I remain convinced that this option was the least-bad alternative that the Bush and Clinton Administrations faced. But. Successful policy has to come from a clear-eyed view of what really is, unpalatable facts included. Pleasant fantasy will always be a temptation for 20,000-feet-up policy-makers, as it is for all of us in our personal lives.

    The obstacles to Iraqi democracy are many and severe. Interventionist policy ought to focus on confronting or ameliorating these problems, where we have reasonable prospects for doing so. In many respects, the Coalition has done this, but it has underestimated or ignored others. The spasms of looting that took place in April 2003 were the first warning sign that US resources and planning was grossly inadequate for some of the crucial tasks at hand.

  56. Dan, yes, Hekmatyar is now allied with bin Laden. The enemy of my enemy…

    I’m not sure, Mark, that the Italian Mafia is such a good case for your side. First, the various gangs have already made a geographical division: are we prepared to see the Sunni and al Sadr militias as laws unto themselves, and isn’t there a much greater possibility of civil war? Second, politics in Iraq has previously been winner-take-all. In Italy, for complicated reasons about political development after WWII, the central government made concessions to the Mafia, no matter which political party was nominally in charge. I agree that our Iraq prospects are better if the central government guarantees the militias of the minority groups a sufficiently large share of swag (one could easily mollify whichever of the Kurds and Sunnis missed out on Kirkuk), but I think such an arrangement will be hard to make in the daylight. Nor, I might add, are the mullahs entirely corruptible with money; at least, I think if they were, Saddam would have done it long ago.

    I’m not particularly familiar with the South Asian governments, but I’m quite sure that the European and North American democracies are not hosts to large heavily-armed militias. I know one of the programs of the new South African democracy has been the integration of the armed wing of the guerrilla movements into the regular army. I’m aware of armed groups in the Central American “democracies” and you’ll have to pardon me some skepticism aboubt their stability. As I said, I’m no great expert on Asia, but the Phillippines seems to me to be your best comparison to Iraq, and even there, we have a period of relatively enlightened semi-colonial development of democracy and no equivalent of the Shiite clergy preferring theocracy to any sort of secular government—so it’s more favorable than Iraq. It’s also worth mentioning that the central government in the Phillippines is so weak that isolated regions of the country host training camps for Al Qaeda-affiliated stateless terror groups, so to that extent it’s actually a more dangerous place for the West than Saddam’s Iraq.

    Would any of you care to address why our attempts to democratize Iraq are more promising than Afghanistan? [Factional Afghani militias balk at pre-election disarmament plan – Financial Times]

  57. To all,

    You seem to be missing something. The US plans to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan for the LONG haul. That means decades, not months. US Air Force and Army installations are being built with the expectations of a long stay. Just like we are still in Japan 59 years later (and according to a poster above – didn’t end the occupation until 1960, 15 years after the wars end). Same with Germany. Kerry has said that he will continue the war, mabye with some different tactics, but he will go the distance. There is no credible force to replace the US Army/Air Force/Marines in Iraq. Does not matter who is in charge (US/UN/Iraq/Green-men-from-mars). The US will provide the bulk of the troops and thus the bulk of the causulties. Unless we cut and run (admiting defeat), that will not change.

    Every officer I talked with new by late November 01(when I was bombing the Taliban) that Afghanistan would fall quickly and that its demise would not end the WoT. Nor would the entire elimination of Al Queda from Osama down to the lowliest waterboy. There would just be another Al Queda and another 9/11 if we did nothing. So what to do? From every aspect Iraq was the easiest of the next and has proved to be. (if you disagree with the ease how things are going in Iraq please read some history. I will make one note: The British Army, ALONE, lost 56,000 men on the first day of the Somme during WW I).
    Lastly I see the current policy of offensive against are enemies to have a much better chance than the defensive alternative the left proposes. They would eventually hit us again and if a nuke did go off in a US city, there would be hell to pay. We would liberate the entire ME, by force and dictate terms to the mullahs at a point of a gun while occupying Meccah. And I would expect liberal nuclear use against cities to lower US losses (just like Hiroshama). That’s the alternative as I see it and I would rather fight are their turf than ours…

  58. Would any of you care to address why our attempts to democratize Iraq are more promising than Afghanistan?

    Andrew, I would parse a variant of the underlying premise as, “you broke it, you fix it.” I would argue that this is true, but not wholly so. The “broke” part implies that pre-war Ba’athist Iraq was a non-broken place. From the US and the Iraqi citizen points of view, this was not so.

    I won’t list the US national-security issues, as you covered them in your March WoC piece. I recognize that you don’t have a romantic, deGenova-esque view of what Saddamite rule meant in practice.

    “You broke it” also implies that the pre-war status quo was tolerably stable. It was fairly clear then, and is abundantly clear in retrospect, that this was also not so. The ‘Nineties anti-Saddam sanctions regimes were becoming progressively weaker, and were being more aggressively undermined, with the active complicity of the UN Secretariat and two of the five Permanent SC members. Ba’athist, Pan-Arab, Islamist, and Western Leftist propaganda against the US/UK backed containment measures were growing stronger. The likely result, IMO, would have been the de facto re-admission of Ba’athist Iraq into the “family of nations” in a matter of months or a few years.

    I recognize that I haven’t answered your challenge, and, alas, won’t (that ‘day job’ thing). I’ll make the obvious point (that I believe you have made on other threads) that concepts like “democracy”, or more properly “governance”, aren’t binary. The real issues in Iraq as in Afghanistan are about shades of grey. As they also are, necessarily, when considering US (or Western) policy towards places like Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, South Korea, Taiwan, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chile. I bring up these as examples of non-ideal and sometimes fragile governments that are nonetheless clearly better–for their citizens and for the US–than the more despotic rulers of their recent pasts.

    Whether Bush has what it takes to bring Iraq or Afghanistan to an ‘acceptably light’ shade of gray remains to be seen; I share a number of the doubts you have expressed. Perhaps Kerry could grow into a better leader in this regard, though I see no sign of it, and substantial evidence to the contrary.

    By the standards being applied to Bush, Washington in 1777, Lincoln in 1862, FDR in 1942, and Truman in 1951 were abysmal failures. To say “yes to war, but only if no major screw-ups ensue” is to be a pacifist in practice. Parades of Very Bad News–one way or another–are the unwelcome but predictable bastard offspring of the Decision To Fight. That’s why war is tragedy, not comedy.

  59. AJL:

    My comment on Hekmatyar was with regard to your remark that he was a new ally of bin Laden – they’ve been in cahoots for at least 2 years now if not more.

    As for Southeast Asia, I would suggest looking at Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand. I believe that a case can also be made for a number of Indian, Bengali, and Sri Lankan political parties having their own military wings, with the RSS coming very much to mind in the lattermost case. And India, as we are always told, is “the world’s largest democracy.” I’m not saying that the solution in any of these nations is ideal, but I think that to say that it’s never worked out under the circumstances as far as the mechanics of democracy working in those nations is untrue.

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