Kerr’s Iraq Challenge

Over at Volokh, Orin Kerr posts three challenges to hawks.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

Yes I do, for exactly the same reasons that I gave before the invasion:
…a part of what I have realized is that as long as states – particularly wealthy states – are willing to explicitly house terrorists and their infrastructure, or implicitly turn a blind eye to their recruitment and funding, we can’t use the kind of ‘police’ tactics that worked against Baader-Meinhof or the Red Army Faction. The Soviet Union and it’s proxies offered limited support to these terrorist gangs, but they didn’t have a national population to recruit from and bases and infrastructure that only a state can provide.

So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse. Note that it will probably get somewhat worse if we do…but that’s weather, and I’m worried about climate.

I believe that a sufficiently aggressive terrorist action against the United States could well result in the simple end of the Islamic world as we know it. I believe that if nukes were detonated in San Pedro and Alameda and Red Hook that there’s a non-trivial chance that we would simply start vaporizing Arab cities until our rage was sated.

I’d rather that didn’t happen. I’d rather that San Pedro, Alameda, and Red Hook stayed whole and safe as well, and I believe the answer is to end the state support of terrorism and the state campaigns of hatred aimed at the U.S. I think that Iraq simply has drawn the lucky straw. They are weak, not liked, bluntly in violation of international law, and as our friends the French say, about to get hung pour l’ecourager les autres…to encourage the others.

You’ll note that the pattern of state behavior by Arab states over the last 18 months has been overall positive; from Libya to Lebanon, we are seeing baby steps away from the abyss. Pakistan is apparently allowing US experts to ‘safe’ their nukes against theft as it negotiates with India. The Palestinian Authority PM is questioning their strategy of terror.

Clearly there are nonstate actors who are fighting us with all their power, and will continue to do so until they run out of resources, people, or will. But they are not being and will not be fed at the rates that supported their growth in the last decades.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

I expected it, since history happens in historic time – rather than according to the faster pace of television news cycles. It’s obviously tragic – and more so since I do believe that some severe missteps in the beginning of the occupation opened the door to wider unrest. But this is going to be a contest of sitzfleisch more than cleverness. I worried about that as well – also before the invasion:
How do we do this in a way that won’t mean that we’ll be back next year, and the year after, and the year after that?

Because otherwise, we’re playing King Canute, lashing the tide as a demonstration of the limits of our worldly power. We can push back our enemies. We can weaken them. We can even kill them all, if it comes down to that.

But can we stick this out long enough to make peace with them? Or rather, to fight them hard enough and long enough and still have the stomach and heart to offer the average person on the ground in Tikrit or Jakarta something worth living for? Because that’s what it will take to have a chance that they will make peace with us.

This is uncharted territory. I can’t think of an example in modern history where it has worked.

I think we’ll readily win the clash of arms. But as the Israelis have discovered, I believe that this is more a war of stomach, heart, and backbone than one of arms.

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

I doubt that there are very many indicators that will operate over a period of months that will be terribly fruitful in the overall strategic evaluation (as opposed to evaluating the tactics that make up the overall strategy). I think we need to set a timescale in increments of a decade; we’re still in Germany a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I think the macro indicators are three: the rise of a just civil society in Iraq (I think the democracy there is going to be damn imperfect, even by Florida standards); the commitment of the American people to that goal (just civil society in Iraq, by means that may change as circumstances unfold); and the commitment of the Iraqi people to that goal (i.e. what we’re seeing now is neither a mass uprising nor an attack by an organized skilled, well-equipped foe – which suggests that overall, the Iraqi people are – if not on our side, not violently opposed).

I think the short term metrics are the classic ones; electricity availability, kids in schools, hospital beds functioning, crime, the level of insurgent violence. But those will spike and ebb; we can’t be panicked by the spikes and we can’t get cocky because of the ebbs.

I think that most of all, a sense of realism about the scale – in effort and in time – of the project we are engaged in is necessary. Bush hasn’t done that, and that’s arguably his biggest vulnerability.

26 thoughts on “Kerr’s Iraq Challenge”

  1. All well and good, except for one flaw in your logic – Iraq was not a state sponsor of terrorism, unlike Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, and probably Tunisia. This isn’t a maybe or a might be – there is no evidence of state support for terrorism from the Ba’athist regime, largely due to its’ extremely secular nature I suspect (unless, I suppose you count the invasion of Kuwait as terrorism, which is a real stretch).

    I’m afraid the choice of Iraq was dictated as much by revenge for Daddy as anything else (by other standards, Syria would have been a better target).

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favour, even now, of the invasion, on the purely humanitarian grounds of getting rid of a tyrant who was killing 100,000 of his own populace _every_year_ for, what, 22 years? As I tell my nitwit leftwing friends, remember the number 330 – that’s Saddams’ _average_ killings every damn day.

    I am, however, filled with contempt for the post-invasion process conducted by the Pentagon. The way to succeed in this (as one of the Joint Chiefs observed before the invasion was planned out), was to _flood_ Iraq with money, supplies, and labour _immediately_ after the invasion, so that within 3 months the civil populace had reliable water, electricity and food. Instead, through a combination of ineptness and corruption, it has taken 12 months to get any real support (beyond the limited amount Army engineers have been able to do) to the Iraqis, who – naturally – have concluded that the Americans are not much of an improvement on Saddam.

    Of course, it’s a bit late now :(

  2. firefall:

    I’m sorry, but your assertion that Iraq was not a state sponsor of terrorism is flat wrong. Yes, links to Al Qaeda are tendentious, though even the Senate Intelligence Committee report noted overtures between bin Laden and Saddam’s regime–and I don’t imagine we’ll ever find that notarized “Terrorist Operations Support Contract” ;) Anyway, I don’t know what you could possibly call Saddam’s $25,000 payment (later increased, I believe) to Palestinian “martyrs” if you won’t call it state sponsored terrorism.

  3. For the record, I’ll agree that Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism against Israel. My belief is that Saddam paid suicide bombers not so much to encourage the bombers (unfortunately, plenty seem willing to work for free), but so that some of their glory [!?] would reflect back on him, for his own political legitimacy.

    I suspect that if we let it, whatever Baghdad government we come up with would prefer to reinstate the dishonoraria, for much the same reason.

    Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism against the USA, that’s, to put it charitably, speculative.

  4. Andrew- How about this specific case of Saddam’s support for anti US terrorists?

    NAME: Abu Abbas
    ALIAS: Muhammad Abbas
    ORGANIZATION: Palestine Liberation Front
    COMMENTS: A Palestinian guerrilla leader who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship was quoted Tuesday as saying he had attended Palestinian talks in Egypt but left after he was informed of a threat on his life. The United States has said it asked Egyptian and other Middle Eastern governments if ABU ABBAS was in their territory, but Egypt has told Washington he was not in Cairo. Abu Abbas is the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, which hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the eastern Mediterranean in 1985. A disabled elderly American, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed in the operation. Abbas told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that he had joined talks in Egypt attended by key Palestinian factions on an end to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, but had left after a few days. “I was told there was U.S. pressure and fears over my personal security but I did not understand what the source of this threat on my life was,” he said.

    The United States had told Egyptian authorities it might want to pursue a court case against Abu Abbas. “There is no legal justification to resume chasing me after the American justice minister closed the case in 1996 and I have been moving freely since,” Abu Abbas said, accusing Israel and the United States of trying to scuttle the Palestinian talks. 1/2003

    Palestinian leader, Muhammad ‘Abbas (aka Abu Abbas) has fled from his home in Baghdad towards the Syrian border, Palestinian sources Sunday told Quds Press. According to these sources, the Syrian authorities refused to allow him to enter the Syrian territory. Abbas, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, heads the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF). A warrant for Abu Abbas’s arrest is outstanding in Italy. Since the Achille Lauro attack, the PLF has based itself in Iraq. 4/2003

    Abu Abbas captured on outskirts of Bagdhad.

    Perhaps you might explain what Abbas was doing in Baghdad to Widow Klinghoffer? (sourced from

  5. Abu Abbas was covered by an amnesty under the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement. Israel even turned a blind eye to his sojourn in the Gaza Strip, where he was allegedly promoting a peaceful resolution. So by the time he showed up in Baghdad he was (perhaps wrongly) no longer considered a terrorist.

    I guess you wreren’t aware of this?

  6. Andrew- What in the penultimate paragraph don’t you understand, as it answers your unfounded suposition about his status? So no, I was not aware of matters of interpretation like what you presented. Incidently Israel has more than enough active terrorists who are immediate threats to their citizens in the occupied territories. The fact that they did or didn’t try to apprehend one terrorist or another says nothing about this matter.

  7. A.L.- I think Andrew and I are spinning the wrenches on this nut from your post:

    “…I have realized is that as long as states – particularly wealthy states – are willing to explicitly house terrorists and their infrastructure, or implicitly turn a blind eye to their recruitment and funding, we can’t use the kind of ‘police’ tactics that worked against Baader-Meinhof or the Red Army Faction. The Soviet Union and it’s proxies offered limited support to these terrorist gangs, but they didn’t have a national population to recruit from and bases and infrastructure that only a state can provide.

    “So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse.”

    Which is why I provided the Abbas citation in specific as it ties to your general statement.

  8. Steve in NoVA: a tyrant who was killing 100,000 of his own populace every_year for, what, 22 years?

    Saddam Hussein is responsible for the democide of an estimated 500,000 people between 1979 and 2003. This is about 20,000 a year on average; 60,000 people were killed in the ’91 uprising after the Koweit war. 180,000 Kurds were killed in the late eighties.

    Iraq Body Count puts the civilian death toll since the begining of the war to between 13000 and 15000.

    This not include all the deaths due to the massive wave of criminality that the occupation forces have been unable to stem (Baghdad has a murder rate twice that of Bogota, 76/100000 vs 39/100000), nor the Iraqi military casualties of the invasion, estimated at 20000-30000 (some estimates as high as 50000).

    How many people did Saddam kill between 1997 and 2002? 4000

  9. I was in favor of the invasion, but knew that it was short-staffed from the beginning. Many people here (Telenko, Porphy) vehemently disagreed with me. Unfortunately, I’ve been proven right.

    Now, I’m not so sure that it was a good idea, because of the mess that resulted from the incompetent prosecution. Many Iraqis, even those in the Shia south who were happy to see us, now share this view. I’m still glad that we got rid of Saddam, but I know that a radical change is necessary, not more happy horseshit.

    It’s like cooking: you can have fine victuals and spices, but if you have a bumbling chef who omits steps and ingredients, you end up with an inedible mess.

  10. My short term criteria of succes in Iraq is:

    can we use it as a base of operations against Iran and Syria.

    That is a criteria that probably will be tested in not too many months.

    My mid term – can they handle an orderly transfer of power? Not the first election but the second and those following.

    Long term – can they defend themselves?

    The thing to keep in mind here is that Iraq was only one battle in the war.

  11. I have to agree with M Simon, although I suspect this point of view won’t be too popular around here. Judging Iraq in isolation, I strongly believe, leads to mistakes – both of too much optimism and of too much pessimism.

    On the pessimistic side, there’s the already-seen tendency to treat Iraq as though it were not still a theater of war and to throw up hands at the violence – assuming, for example, that the attacks come from ordinary Iraqis (who are presumably resisting the American presence in Iraq and nothing else). As well as the tendency to treat “successful elections” as a sine qua non and to despair at any indication that they might not occur on time or be complete, with no attention paid to Iraq’s usefulness as a base in the wider war. In this way of thinking, the wider war doesn’t exist, so there’s no context in which to place Iraq’s situation.

    On the overly-optimistic side, there’s the danger of saying “Well, Iraq has had an orderly transfer of power, and [speculating on what people might say 6 months from now if all goes well] has had elections, the violence has died down, etc…. and therefore we can leave, we’re done, we don’t have to worry any more, ‘the war’ has been won.” In some ways this viewpoint is more dangerous, because it’s more compelling and sunny, and appeals to the impatient Americans.

    Imagine if we’d liberated France in 1944, spent a year or so fending off German and German-funded guerilla attacks and telling ourselves that it was clearly for naught, since the violence shows that the “French insurgents” hate us, and then… left. “France has been liberated – the war is over!” If we’d been so foolish, we would have been very, very sorry five years later. If we take the easy way of assuming the Iraq campaign was a “war” unto itself, I think we will be even sorrier five years from now.

  12. Actualy, jaed, I think your point of view is likely to find majority agreement among our readers and contributors.

    What to do next within that framework, of course, is a matter for some discussion. “Chuck Hagel”: makes one set of points, “Kingdaddy” at “Arms & Influence has other thoughts,”: etc. Both are varyingly critical, but useful. If you’re thinking in terms of the wider theater, of course, more aggressive options focused on destabilizing or hitting Iraq’s neighbours also suggest themselves. Lots to talk about, as we discuss how to win and opinions differ.

  13. The point that the Iraq effort should not be judged in isolation recalls pre-war criticism; namely, that as a strategic move in the wider war, an invasion of Iraq would be a mistake.

    This is the Richard Clarke position, arguing that an Iraq war would consume limited resources which, if deployed elsewhere, would more effectively address the threat to US security.

  14. Tom, Israel permitted Abu Abbas to enter the Gaza Strip. They have complete control over the borders, then and now. Your own source agrees that after 1996, he was no longer a wanted terrorist in Israel, nor was the USA actively seeking him. Hence his presence in Baghdad (even if his conversion from terrorism was a successful fake) is not very damning; he had free run of much of the world. It’s just (another) attempt to play gotcha.

    Imagine if we’d liberated France and a year after trumpeting Mission Accomplished, French forces were attacking us. Of course, we’ll have to imagine it, because it didn’t happen. But in my imagination, it would be a terrible setback. (Forget the foreign fighter excuse, Gen. Abizaid says there are probably fewer than 1000.)

    It’s chilling to see M. Simon back with his plans for Syria and Iran. A year ago, when things started to get more difficult in Iraq, the idea was we had armed forces hidden away in reserve for the continuation of Neocolonialist Neocon Fantasy II – The Sequel. Assuming we still have a Congress next year, I don’t think this movie plays.

    Back on Planet Earth, another not-so-armchair colonel is heard from:

    If Bush is re-elected, there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq:
    * Four years from now, America will have 5,000 dead servicemen and women and an untold number of dead Iraqis at a cost of about $1 trillion, yet still be no closer to success than we are right now, or
    * The U.S. will be gone, and we will witness the birth of a violent breeding ground for Shiite terrorists posing a far greater threat to Americans than a contained Saddam.

  15. I would add Wahabi/Salafist terrorism with a secure base in Al Anbar, if not Baghdad, with the psychopath Zarqawi possibly leading to Col. Turner’s possible outcomes.

  16. klaatu

    bq. _“I was in favor of the invasion, but knew that it was short-staffed from the beginning. Many people here (Telenko, Porphy) vehemently disagreed with me. Unfortunately, I’ve been proven right.”_

    Here’s part of the issue I have with this statement. Short staffed in what manner? If we are talking about troops to provide security in the form of marshal law I agree. There are not enough troops to do that and it doesn’t matter how many you pull from elsewhere there still will not be enough troops to do that.

    If you’re looking for troops to provide social services (electricity, plumbing, engineers to build hospitals, schools and bridges, nurses, doctors, lawyers etc..) the majority with the exception of mission critical positions were given the deep six a long time ago in favor of NGO’s providing that type of support. Whether or not it was the right thing to do, now we see the results of creating a fighting force simply for fighting sake. So where is this social support going to come from? It certainly isn’t coming from the military. In short the military is not the entire answer to the over all problems.

    What needs to be done is stabilize and secure the region so that NGO’s can do their jobs. Is it going to take some time absolutely. It’s hard to build a canal when the mosquitoes are the issue. It is the military’s primary job to eliminate the mosquitoes. Training and out fitting Iraqi forces, police and intelligence to provide for security is taking place albeit not as quickly as we would like. Tapping into Iraqi engineers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers is no small feat especially when they are more concerned about where the next round is coming from.

    Yes I was for the invasion. My support for the invasion was based on the fact that Sadam was harboring terrorists. Whether or not he was actively supporting them with arms, money or even intelligence is of little consequence. I don’t doubt for one moment that Sadam understood what the aims of the terrorists were and he most assuredly was aware of their tactics. Whether or not the terrorists agreed with his own agenda is irrelevant. The fact that he sanctioned their protection on Iraqi soil was enough for me. We can get into the suspicions as to why he did it all we want but for me the leap from harboring to abetting and enabling terrorists is not far fetched given his past transgressions and that’s being overly polite about it.

  17. USMC

    bq. _There are not enough troops to do that [provide security] and it doesn’t matter how many you pull from elsewhere there still will not be enough troops to do that._

    You are right, now. There may not be enough troops anywhere to make Iraq secure, _now._ But back last year more troops may have made a real difference in providing security and a start to the reconstruction, even in small projects. Now the Iraqis have turned against us.

    One example I’ve mentioned before: all througout Iraq there were huge ammo dumps, many square miles of bunkers filled with artillery shells, missiles, etc. There were not enough troops to secure them or to dispose of the weapons. Result: a ready source of explosives to make improvised explosive devices, and for other mischief.

    When I say short staffed I also mean the civilian side. Considering that Iraq doesn’t have a functioning banking system, the ministries were often in ruins, and we wanted to promote democratic ideas, there were not enough people on the CPA staff to get out and make these things happen. Some people did wondrous things, but it was all according to _ad-hoc_ individual initiative and not according to a plan.

    It really is a tragedy, one of the biggest in recent history, but blame must be assessed. I blame Bush and his deputies, especially Rumsfeld, who was so eager to prove his “transformational” policies that he proceeded against the advice of senior military leaders like Gen. Shinseki.

  18. I think the response to question #3 is telling. I had asked this question at MT – by what criteria success? By what criteria failure? Without these, how can a recommended policy be taken seriously?

    The case for Iraq has been setup in a, to borrow from Edward over at Obsidian Wings, an “unfalsifiable” manner.

    This is why this is the wrong “remedy”, so to speak, for the Iraq situation. A.L. won’t even TOUCH Col. Turner’s remarks.

    The “long-term” criteria that A.L. sets up, are vague, unprovable, unfalsifiable, except for a 10 year stretch. So success gets defined down.

    The short-term goals criteria, A.L. is more honest about, but even this is caveated with the (true) statement that these go up and down over time (but again, you have to look at the trend.).

    Listen, to be perfectly blunt: If you don’t have some way of judging success or failure, and the way of judging success of failure isn’t embraced by those embarking on a policy – then how is this different from snake oil? Seriously?

    I’m dying of whatever, and the nice doctor comes and, very professionally, and with great dignity and intelligence, applies leeches to my body. The patient is breaking out all over – yet this is good news. I continue to get worse, but this is all “part of a long term process of getting better”. The nice doctor can go on saying the same thing until I die.

    At some point this becomes simply feckless and irresponsible. When is the criteria by which “failure” will be owned, if any?

  19. klaatu

    You could have walked into Iraq 1 million strong and it still would not have been enough.

    The only way to make it enough and effective is instantaneous take over. One minute you’re under Saddam and the next minute you’re not and every territory in Iraq is secured with your troops. With each and every military movement there is always a counter from the other side. Be that hiding weapons for later use, troop movements or diplomatic stalling. In any case the warring factions will devise ways to continue even in the event of a foreseeable absolute and sound defeat.

    Am I pleased with the way things are going and do I believe things could go better. I’m not pleased in the sense that a statement still needs to be made. That statement being under no circumstances is militant resistance acceptable regardless of the cost. Sure it means forcing your hand and using brutal force in the interim to accomplish the end goal. That being democracy, peace, human decency and tranquility for the region.

    Case in point. Commanding officers in the military make it known exactly who is giving the orders and who is the boss. Normally you’ll see some disgruntlement when CO’s change especially in the lower ranks. The reason is simple the things a unit enjoys and are used to under one command will not be the same under another.

    When receiving a new command the one effective way to get everyone’s attention is an inspection and forced removal of posters, placards, personal items from the work place. It sends the message that a new commander is on board and like it or not you will accept the change in command. Of course in due time these items do come back into the work place but the message is clear about command before they do.

  20. Andrew L.- Apparently the fact that the Achilles Lauro case was in Italian jurisdiction, who still have the warrant out, is of no importance to you. The political point of that hijaaking was to target Jews, US Jews in the case of Klinghoffer. The US might have dropped the prosecution for that particular incident in favor of its standing in Italian courts, but they obviously haven’t given him “free run of much of the world” lately as apparently there is still some significant interest in his prior activities, no matter how you choose to spin this particular fact pattern.

  21. Tom, seeing that Abu Abbas died this March, apparently of natural causes, it is unlikely the Italians will ever do anything with their warrant. It’s rather telling, though, that for the year (plus-or-minus) that he was in USA custody after the fall of Baghdad, the Italians, part of the Coalition, made no visible attempt to extradite him. Abu Abbas was simply not a wanted terrorist at the time that he was in Baghdad. Probably by mistake, but that’s a long story, his earlier sins had been forgiven.

    JC, klaatu, and likeminded shouldn’t miss William Saletan at Slate today. He points at that when Iraq was quiet, that was a sign Bush’s plan was succeeding; now that Iraq is full of terrorists, that too is a sign his plan is succeeding. The criterion for success is simple: if it is Bush’s plan, it is ipso facto successful.

    M. Simon points out in the previous Iraq thread that WWII was hard. What he misses is that it was hard for the Axis, too; so hard that they lost. And the initial military cakewalk, the premature declaration of victory, the refusal to accept the need to change the Leader’s plan, the insistence that deteriorating facts on the ground are signs of enemy desperation (compare here)and not success, the rejection of professional military advice, even the Leader’s victory jig (Compaigne, USS Lincoln) suggest that we’re following the pattern of the wrong side.

  22. Andrew L.- Despite my not knowing that he had died already, thereby mooting the Italian warrant, I’d still contend that he was not exactly forgiven his past by his victims, nor their country, with the exception of yourself and other like minded to you. Your last equation of dying while in detention to “been forgiven” is quite startling as a logical conclusion. Moreover, these last items fail to contradict my original point that Iraq in 2003 was physically hiding and supporting a significant terrorist who had incontrovertibly targeted US citizens. The fact that US detention eliminated Abbas’s ability to do likewise in the future is a good turn of events, and I hope has been duplicated in other less publicized cases.

    Incidently, what is your non sequitur reference to the USS Lincoln and jigs? The Compaigne one I know of, the Lincoln is a mystery.

  23. If Nelson Mandela (or Yitzhak Shamir!) had been living in Baghdad, would that also be harboring terrorists? Abu Abbas, probably incorrectly, was being treated as a forgiven ex-terrorist. I don’t mean by the families; I doubt Count Bernadotte’s family was so keen when Shamir became PM of Israel. Sure we detained him, as we detained many others; I assume many mid-level Baath officials are under some form of detention. But was Abbas going to be extradited to Italy or tried by the USA (we had jurisdiction too, Klinghoffer being an American citizen)? Quite evidently not.

    Maybe I should have said the Abraham Lincoln, and of course the reference is to Bush’s carrier landing, complete with flight suit, and the Mission Accomplished speech.

  24. Andrew- as you have pointed out above, these last Italian hypotheticals are now mooted by his death.

    WRT the Bush speech on the Lincoln, the sign posted on the carrier had “mission acomplished” on it; Bush’s speech didn’t contain those specific words. As all the attendees were government employees, you could conceivably say that Bush “supervised” putting up that sign. But there is nothing to suggest that he actually knew of it before the event. But in your comparison you seem to think that these two historical events (the jig and speech) were similar in their symbolic roles. But where are the equivalent to the Allies that later reversed German occupation of France in the Iraqi context, as it certainly wasn’t the French who liberated themselves?

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