Cut the Cord?

On the op-ed page of Sunday's New York Times, former Defense Department official and high priest of neo-conservative foreign policy Richard Perle takes disingenuousness to new heights with this short essay:

The most important thing we can do to help the Iraqis and ourselves is to recognize -- and reverse -- the seminal mistake that followed the quick destruction of Saddam Hussein's murderous regime: the foolish (however well-meaning) and arrogant belief that we know better than the Iraqis how to rebuild their devastated society.

Some of our technical assistance has certainly been useful, but for five years, we have been telling the Iraqis how to construct a political and legal system, how to elect their leaders, who should occupy which cabinet posts, who should be their prime minister, how to develop and allocate their resources, how to organize and regulate their economy. We have been telling Iraqi Shiites how they should deal with Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis, how an independent Iraq should relate to the Arab world, how Iraqis should reconcile sectarian differences, when to negotiate, when to fight and how to measure progress.

Stop! Iraqis know far better than we what makes sense for them. When administration officials and members of Congress, with their diplomatic, intelligence and political advisers -- whose knowledge of Iraq is often recent, shallow and wrong -- hector and lecture the Iraqis who are struggling to find a way forward, I wonder whether we have learned anything from our past mistakes.

Ah yes, the "mistakes were made" defense. We seem to be hearing this one a lot lately from Perle's crew -- Bremer, Feith and Wolfowitz, to name a few.

Unfortunately for these men, history will record these mistakes as theirs. It was Perle's neocons who pushed the war. It was his cabal that believed a) we would be greeted as liberators, b) freedom and democracy would bloom once Saddam was toppled, and c) no sustained occupation or counterinsurgency effort would be necessary. Thus, in many ways, the thinking of Perle and his confederates was the original sin in Iraq (or the second sin if you think the invasion itself was wrong) -- it set up the U.S. effort for failure.

It's all too bloody convenient now for him to say "cut the cord"!!!! Sorry, Richard, but Frankenstein has already escaped the lab. And while you can ignore the moral duties we owe to Iraq, and our own vital interests in the region, I cannot.

By Phillip Carter |  May 5, 2008; 7:46 AM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Phil:

Could one be disingenuous but still be right?

Have we transformed a society so far that it can not recover? Have we arrived at the cabal's desired result - a westbank that extends to the borders of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey and flanks Syria and Jordan.

What have we learned about ourselves, as well?

Posted by: Bill Keller | May 5, 2008 8:26 AM

All this talk of the "cabal." Amazing.

I think the problem with Perle's analysis is that it is too late. Had we given the Iraqis more power more quickly after Saddam's overthrow, things might have developed differently. But after the CPA's disastrous time in power and the rise of the insurgency, there is no getting around the fact that we bear some responsibility for helping to put Iraq back together again.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 5, 2008 9:15 AM

Mr Perle can apologize and rationalize all he and the other neo-cons want, but the recognition of our foreign policy mistakes, and their impact on national common good, seem to have no real meaning as long as Mr Bush sits in the White House and refuses to admit his mistakes or make any attempt to correct them. Nor do I hear any of the recent rationalizers make any suggestions of how to reverse the disastrous path they set our nation is upon.

Posted by: Glenn Gaffney | May 5, 2008 9:21 AM

What I read in the subtext of Mr. Perle's article is this: Democracy in Iraq is an alien concept foisted on Iraqi's by the US. I believe this is a leading edge in the neo-cons' abandoment of nation-buidling in Iraq, and the start of a search for an authoritarian government, indebted to the US for its hold on power.

We can already see this when Malaki talks about "his" offensive into Sadr City, when it seems that the actual offensive uses US troops do to the actual fighting.

By the way, an accomanying artile in the Times was by Uber-tool Fred Kagan. Kagan links calls for the Iraqi's to pay for our efforts on their behalf to "imperialism" and accusing those who want Iraq to pay of wanting the US to make war for profit.

First, Mr. Kagan, (hard as it is to believe one has to explain this to a Republican) profit is the difference between income and expense. No one is suggesting we charge Iraq more than we're spending.

Second, while the US government is not profiting from the war, Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, etc. are making tons of money. The war is very profitable for some Americans.

Does anyone take that toad seriously?

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 5, 2008 10:08 AM

Bill,

Yes, one can be disingenuous and still be right. In this case, I think Perle makes a decent argument, one that I've made before in other contexts in support of Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems. But, I think Perle has zero credibility to make this point. And, given his history, I wonder what he's really after with this argument.

Posted by: Phillip Carter | May 5, 2008 10:15 AM

Why does Richard Perle even have a microphone to disseminate his opinions?

What's troubling is the narrow ideological band of opinions that the NYT's solicited for their "How to See the Mission Accomplished" Sunday special Op/Ed Contributor section:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/opinion/04precede.html

I count a good, 5-6 neocon's there, as well as other pro-invasion "public intellectuals," who've squandered what little credibility they may have once had on the issue.

Why is it that you can be horribly wrong on the biggest issue, and yet, people will pay you to commission this crap.

Why can't we can some public voices on the major opinion pages who actually believe that the fundamental problem with our adventure in Iraq, was NOT only that the execution was flawed, but rather the underlying premise was flawed. Is Juan Cole considered too "controversial" even though he's been right about Iraq through and through?

Then we could actually have a debate. Tell me Kagan how glorious the surge is. Oh, and we bombed a hospital in Sadr City this weekend. Nice. I guess that was the hospital's fault for harboring "terrorists."

I feel shame for the blood on my hands as an American, and I've been against the war from the beginning. Do these guys have no shame? Or the fact that they profit off of the war allows them to compartmentalize their shame? I wonder if Rumsfeld realizes, that if there is a hell, he's going to it. That'd be fitting considering he's already help create a hell on earth in Iraq.

Posted by: NattyB | May 5, 2008 10:47 AM

It really does trouble me the tone of much of the discussion here. I have gotten in some arguments on here in the past, some of which have been very constructive. But there seems to be so much hatred and contempt in some of the voices. For example, I understand that many of the previous commentators are strongly opposed to the war and would advocate an immediate pull-out. As cliche as it sounds, it is a fundamental part of our democracy that we debate and argue, sometimes vigorously, important issues like these. But why is there the need to call other people "toads"? DanPatrick, (I hope you are not the ESPN guy) do you know Kagan? Clearly you disagree with him, and you seem to find his view on Iraq deeply wrong. But how can you expect others to respect you and your views if you are not willing to do the same? Decent, constructive democratic debate takes place within a context of assumed good intentions. Without this it descends into name calling and personal attacks. It also relies on an acknowledgment of our limited knowledge. Many feel strongly that the war must be won, many feel that we must pull out before we lose more young men and women. One can have a firmly held belief and have reasons for it, but I feel that it is only honorable to acknowledge that we aren't sages and we do not know for sure what will happen. If it was so obvious then we wouldn't be having the debate in the first place. And NattyB, you frighteningly seem to be suggesting that the Washington Post should not print views that you disagree with. And how exactly do you determine who is and is not a "neo-con?" What aspect of their political philosophy is the determining factor, or is it simply those who disagree with you?
I have no doubt that someone will follow this post by calling me some name or other. But I hope others will agree with me, as Phil Carter's posts are often food for constructive discussion which deserve more than childish name-calling.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 5, 2008 2:17 PM

I think we all agree that Richard Perle needs to sit down and shut up when it comes to US foreign policy. He can take solace from the fact that should we ever find ourselves in need of another pointless, expensive military adventure, he's number one on our list of talking heads we'll consult.
What does he want? Primarily, he'd like to rehabilitate his reputation a bit. There are performance metrics, even for talking heads, and his FOC (Full of Crap) ratio has been off the chart. Perhaps by predicting things that are never going to happen (like suggesting after invading a country and spending five bloody years occupying it, we AREN'T going to meddle in their internal affairs) he can bring his FOC number back from "laughingstock" to something more acceptable. Perhaps he merely aspires for an the FOC metric in line with an "irritating blow hard" talking head. Granted that's not how most of us would like to be remembered, but for Richard it would be an amazing turn around.
With time, and several hundred thousand more lines of inoperable predictions, he might manage to just squeak back into the good graces of the Republican lunatic fringe, which is all he had to do initially, since it is the lunatic fringe that drives that particular bus.

Posted by: Dijetlo | May 5, 2008 2:37 PM

Re the Hobgood post: Hobgood, you're really going to reach a lot of people by presuming to correct them in what they post. All you're doing with me is convincing me that you somehow have failed to form any opinions of what's gone on in our nation for the past seven years and that you somehow want to approach everything as if it's a bright new day. Well, a lot of people aren't so tra-la-la and forgiving as you seem to be.

People such as Perle and Kagan have baggage, Hobgood. Real baggage. Real, live people, Americans and Iraqis, have died because of the philosophy they espouse and which they were able to sell to those who are unfortunately in charge of the nation.

I won't call Perle or Kagan any names. But I will say I hold them in contempt. Does that pass muster with you?

Incidentally, Hobgood, I didn't see where NattyB in any way suggested censoring the opinions rendered by these neocons. What he did say was that he'd like to see a broader range of viewpoints, to include those prescient folks who warned against this most stupendous of all blunders in Iraq. I always thought that was the American way: open marketplace of ideas, and I think NattyB agrees. And it was the NYT, not the WaPo.

A lot of us are ashamed of our nation.

Posted by: Publius | May 5, 2008 5:30 PM

That is fine, you are free to be ashamed. My point is that not everyone shares your convictions. In fact many intelligent, decent, and patriotic people do not. If you want those people to refrain from judging you when your convictions offend them, then you ought to do the same. You seem to have bought hook line and sinker the Democratic narrative of the war. I am well aware that the decision to invade has affected the lives of real people. But the idea that it was "neocons" who somehow brainwashed and fooled the people in charge with false intelligence is not supported by facts. It is a journalistic narrative. In fact, a majority of Democrats in the Senate, who had access to the intelligence from the CIA, drew much the same conclusions as your much-lamented neocons. Does this make Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton neocons? If you honestly believe their story that they were "tricked," then you are a fool. Statements from prominent Democrats going back to the mid-90s support the consensus view that Saddam did in fact have WMD. The Senate unanimously declared regime change the goal of US foreign policy visa-vi Iraq in 1998. Does this mean the Bush administration has not made mistakes? Absolutely not. But it does mean your conspiracy theory does not hold water. Many patriotic Americans assumed, based on the available intelligence from the CIA, that Saddam had WMD, and concluded he was a threat. This does not make them part of an elaborate conspiracy, and they do not deserve to be castigated constantly by the likes of you. If there were a real conspiracy to trick our nation into war, I would be ever bit as outraged as you. But quite simply, there was not. If you have proof to the otherwise, please I would love to see it. You are perfectly free to be outraged. But when I see people being attacked personally simply for their policy views, I find it offensive and uncivilized. Furthermore, I do not think it is "tra la la and forgiving" to focus on the future and the problems we have to deal with now. In fact, that is the only responsible thing to do. What is your alternative? Should we have neocon witch trials, or banish Perle to Israel? Why, for being wrong? What is it you want exactly, impeachment?

Posted by: Publius | May 5, 2008 6:08 PM

"What is it you want exactly, impeachment?"

Well, yeah, I do. I've wanted it for some time. Is that unthinkable to you? I'd also like to see some trials. Show trials, in fact. Live at Five. As a society, we're very vindictive towards some guy who robs a convenience store or smokes dope, but we somehow overlook those in suits with impressive titles who rob the treasury and kill a ton of people for no good reason.

"Many patriotic Americans assumed, based on the available intelligence from the CIA, that Saddam had WMD, and concluded he was a threat."

Those patriotic Americans--and I'm not knocking them one bit--were fed cherry-picked intelligence, which essentially consisted of fabrications from a source whom even the Germans, who ran him, distrusted. Oh, and then there was Mr. Powell's forged letter. Members of Congress were also given cherry-picked intelligence. Depending on party affiliation, they then made the mistake of blindly following the party leader, or, in the case of the opposition, actually trusting the executive branch.

And please don't use my screen name.

Posted by: Publius | May 5, 2008 6:24 PM

I guess the successful model in Japan, of the USA writing their modern constitution, implementing their legal system and the adoption of a western system of government was just an aberration that proves, like Germany and Austria, that modern nation building does not work and you can't write other peoples constitutions.

I think that after a war the indigenous populations wants stability, the rule of law and a fixed set of rules with reasonable representation so they know how to proceed.

Maybe this would be a good "war game" to figure out a suite of pre-built constitutions, sets of laws and rules for implementation after wars and occupations.

Heck, they cant be all that different if they are secular, based on the English parlementary system, and enshrine the protection for personal and civil rights.

There are many stable and productive democracies that have used the standard form of constitution and legislature suggested by the UK for newly independent nation states.

Throwing up our hands and saying "to hell with them" because they are too devided develop and implement a new, from scratch system is stupid.

We know how to build a rocket that gets to the moon, how to build a nucular air craft carrier, but we don't have a few sets of designs for a constitution lying around??

Ok, let,s just go and borrow Turky's constitution. It comes from a Muslim country and will probably work better than what ever it is we are hoping will be formulated in Iraq. Or the constitution and laws from India, or Pakistan, or .... well just pick any working democracy, but preferably one based on English roots.

Posted by: JM | May 5, 2008 7:17 PM

Who performed the "cherrypicking"? What evidence was left out? What did it suggest?

Posted by: Publius | May 5, 2008 9:02 PM

My bad, did not mean to use your name.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 5, 2008 9:03 PM

"I guess the successful model in Japan, of the USA writing their modern constitution, implementing their legal system and the adoption of a western system of government was just an aberration that proves, like Germany and Austria, that modern nation building does not work and you can't write other peoples constitutions."

Japan, Germany and Austria were relatively functional countries before we won WWII. We also did not have hostile countries willing to send money, arms and fighters to impede our progress. We have never really tried anything like this before. If you do want to use the German model, which part of Iraq do you propose we give to Iran?

Steve

Posted by: steve | May 6, 2008 9:10 AM

Hobgood, you were justified in calling me out for labeling Kagan a toad. Point taken. However, if the man wants respect for his arguments, he needs to do a better job of framing them.

What got my ire up was his egregious use of a strawman to dismiss the argument that the Iraqi's need to start ponying up some money for their own defense. Something like that from a person that calls themselves a scholar is reprehensible. And accusing those wanting the Iraqi's to start paying some of the cost of propping up their government of "imperialism" is ridiculous and insulting.

Kagan seems to live in a world without limits, where the cost of our commitment to Iraq (to use Bush's term) is "modest", where taxes don't have to be raised, where casualties are ignored, where the Army can send 11B's over for 4,5,6 tours, I could go on and on.

The fact is our involvement in Iraq is a choice. We could decide that "winning" in Iraq is not worth the effort. But Kagan seems to cut short any sort of rational debate with hyperbole. We all know (I hope) that our survival as a nation does not depend on winning or losing this war.

Since it does not, then it makes sense to discuss the war in terms of its cost to us, versus the benefits that would accrue should we prevail. And weigh those potential benefits against other uses of our military power, blood, and treasure.

Instead, Kagan suggests that the US keep spending money we don't have, as well as slowly bleeding our forces to death, while the Iraqis get their sh*t together.

Why? To fight al-Queda? Tell you what, why don't we divide the number of US caualties divided by AQI killed. Or the money we've spent in Iraq (and I'll even accept Kagan's figures) by the number of AQI killed. How are we doing?

To contain Iran?

The point is, there are other ways to achieve objectives, yet we don't seem to be able to have a rational discussion of those courses of action. Because among other reasons, given last month's "testimony", we don't really know what our objective(s) are.

I seem to recall that a good military objective was first quantifiable and second something you could control. If we accept Kagan's objective: provide political space, that leaves all the cards in Maliki's hands.

Meanwhile, Sadr is working to win a plurality in the next election. What will we do if and when his party controls most of of the COR and Maliki is out?

That's where I think Perle is going: the US won't accept that result, just as we did not accept the election of Hamas.

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 6, 2008 9:33 AM

In the old Intel-Dump, someone deconstructed an argument like DHobgood's in this way:

Yes, this administration has squandered our country's blood, fortune, and sacred honor in this war. But war opponents should not be listened to because they are guilty of the much worse crime of intemperate speech.

And of course these warmongers did not risk their blood, their fortunes (they and their cronies increased that) nor their sacred honor (they have none).

Cheers,

JP

Posted by: almost drafted | May 6, 2008 10:23 AM

DanPatrick,

Surprisingly, I agree with a lot of what you said.

"Since it does not, then it makes sense to discuss the war in terms of its cost to us, versus the benefits that would accrue should we prevail. And weigh those potential benefits against other uses of our military power, blood, and treasure."

I agree totally.

"Why? To fight al-Queda? Tell you what, why don't we divide the number of US caualties divided by AQI killed. Or the money we've spent in Iraq (and I'll even accept Kagan's figures) by the number of AQI killed. How are we doing?"

I think you have a point here for sure. But unfortunately, this is the nature of the broader war we are engaged in. AQ killed 3,000 Americans and caused billions of dollars of damage on 9/11. Not to mention the after-effects, the cost of reform, creation of Homeland Security, opportunity costs in stricter security, etc. They did all this for a measly sum, I think I heard a couple hundred thousand dollars. This is in the nature of the asymmetric war we are engaged in. The fact that we have scruples and they don't, and that some of them are not afraid to die, gives them some serious advantages. I think you still have a point in terms of the costs in Iraq vs. the benefits, but unfortunately this is a problem we will not escape just by leaving Iraq.

"The point is, there are other ways to achieve objectives, yet we don't seem to be able to have a rational discussion of those courses of action. Because among other reasons, given last month's "testimony", we don't really know what our objective(s) are."

There are other options, but in my view, they aren't particularly hopeful. I think you have pinpointed a general problem, though you have attributed blame to the wrong side: many opponents of Bush's policies have focused on criticism rather than put forth realistic, sensible alternatives. I don't think you can blame the administration for this; of course they are going to argue for their policies. But if you go back to pre-war, the majority of Democrats supported it. To my recollection, there was not a great deal of alternatives put forward. The opponents said give inspections more time and so on, and in retrospect it is tempting to conclude that they were right. But I think in reality it is a bit more complicated. The only reason Saddam agreed to the inspections in the first place was the build-up of our military in his neighborhood. If we continued to give him more chances, his view that we were a paper tiger and not serious about taking him out would have been reinforced. Then what reason would he have for cooperating with inspections? This coupled with the fact that France and Russia were eager to rehabilitate Saddam and increase trade with him, and it get even more complicated.

The point of all this is just that this is an incredibly complex issue, and none of us know what would have happened had we not invaded. We can only speculate. I have been condemned on this blog for not condemning the "criminals" behind the invasion, and been called a neocon, etc., but in my mind we are dealing with a highly complex set of possible alternative outcomes that are essentially unknowable. We do know for a fact that mistakes were made in intelligence and in post-war reconstruction. These things we can study and learn from. But we don't know what would have happened had the invasion not occurred. Furthermore, the Democratic Party did not put forth a serious alternative. Even more shameful (in my mind), once things started going badly they abandoned ship and began pretending that they weren't really behind it in the first place, or they were tricked. (Read the shift in Levin's and Hillary's statements from 2001 to now. It's a lesson in hypocrisy and deception.) In mind my a better response for these Democrats would have been to stick by their guns and provide criticism that might be constructive and ultimately help America succeed.

Now we have a similar situation with Iran. I think war with Iran would be disastrous. I hope it does not happen. But it is a serious threat, and we simply do not know what the Iranian regime will do if they acquire nuclear weapons. If they pass a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group which then detonates it in the US, the debate will change significantly. Now it is focused on how we went too far, did too much. If a nightmare scenario like this occurs the focus will be the opposite: we did too little. This was the tone of the dialogue after 9/11. I've heard many scoff at this suggestion, saying it wouldn't happen. This naive faith (which I'm not attributing to you) boggles my mind.

I'm with you in being open to other solutions to the Iranian issue. But so far, I have not heard any real alternatives. In my mind "talking" to them is not enough. It is not a policy. First of all, we already have talked to them. Second, what will we talk about? What will we offer them? Are they likely to take this offer? Can we trust them? These are the important questions that I have not heard an answer to.

It feels like the pre-Iraq debate all over again.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 6, 2008 11:13 AM

"This naive faith (which I'm not attributing to you) boggles my mind."

Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that Saddam and the Iranian leadership are suicidal.

You can keep wrapping your hysteria into reasonable sounding cliches (you sound just like Perle, perhaps that should make you pause a little), but that doesn't make you a serious person.

"First of all, we already have talked to them"

Right. Axis-of-Evil, John Bolton and what not pass as serious talks.

Posted by: srv | May 6, 2008 12:18 PM

Well friend, first of all:

"Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that Saddam and the Iranian leadership are suicidal."

It would not be suicidal to pass nuclear material to a terrorist if the regime in question felt confident the attack would not be traceable back to them. There is no reason to believe that if Israel blew up tomorrow we would be able to figure out who did it. Unless of course it was a missile attack. Even in this case, I think you are engaging in mirroring. You are assuming that what seem rational to you must also seem rational to a Saddam or Khameini (sp?). As is clear from Saddam's behavior before the invasion, he completely misread US intentions, and in the process took the "suicidal" actions of refusing to cooperate fully with inspections and refusing the offer of exile and immunity.

"Right. Axis-of-Evil, John Bolton and what not pass as serious talks."

I was referring to the at least three (to my knowledge) face-to-face meetings Ambassador Crocker has engaged in in Iraq with Iranian ambassadors. According to reports he has presented evidence of Iranian interference in Iraq, which they denied.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 6, 2008 12:55 PM

What's the "similar situation" between Iraq and Iran? Why are you conflating the two? I don't think it's proper. You seem to be making the same mistake John McCain is fond of: lumping Al Queda with Iran.

I didn't suggest we leave Al Queda alone. I think the conflict in Iraq is distracting the administration's attention from the real war against Al Queda in Afghanistan.

Since you mentioned Democrats, I think there have been alternatives mentioned, which I'll try to summarize:

1) Remove US troops from direct combat assignments in Iraq.
2) Concentrate our combat efforts in Afghanistan, since that's where Al Queda lives.
3) Engage Iran diplomatically and work with them to promote stablility in the Middle East.

Sen. Clinton has also proposed (in a somewhat backhanded way) entering into a deterrent posture vis-a-vis Iran. I'm a little concerned that this has not been very well thought out.

But I think the basic premise is a realization that's it's our actions in the Middle East that part of the problem. I'm not "blaming America", just saying that what we do affects the environment. I've seen reports that indicate Al Queda wasn't in Iraq until after we invaded, in other words we caused the situation with which we're now grappling .

Al Queda and Iraq is a red herring and always has been.

It would not be surprising if the Iranians were pursuing a nuclear capability: how else could they deter the US? They are being put in the position of having to prove a negative, which is very difficult to do. Heck, it took us 2 years to prove Saddam didn't have WMD, or even a viable program.

You know who the real problem is in the Middle East? It's not Iran or Israel. I'll give you a hint: 15 of the 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of this nation, as is the head of Al Queda.

One more thing: I know of at least one former administration offical (John Yoo) who does not have any scruples.

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 6, 2008 1:05 PM

DHobgood, two things:

It is a near certainty that the source material for a nuclear weapon (dirty bomb or otherwise) would be discoverable.

https://www.llnl.gov/str/March05/Hutcheon.html

Second, Amb. Crocker (to my knowledge) is not accredited to Iran. We do not have diplomatic relations with Iran, and therefore whenever an administration official talks to them it's at best back-channel. The administration has not sent delegations to Teheran, nor received Iranian delegates. I think you can see how people feel we don't "talk" with Iran.

I did get one thing wrong about OBL, his citizenship was revoked in 1995.

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 6, 2008 1:26 PM

Dan:

A few things. You're right, some Democrats have put forth proposals, but I do not think they are serious. I'll address them one by one

1) Remove US troops from direct combat assignments in Iraq.

This is a bad plan in my view. At this point in time, I really don't think we have much choice but to maintain security until the Iraqi forces can provide it for themselves. The idea of us removing troops from direct combat would be foolish for a few reasons:

a. If we do this, yet maintain presence in Iraq, the likely rise in violence will increase resentment against the US on the part of Iraqis. If you look at the trends in polls, there are important positive trends in Iraqi opinion on this matter. Deciding to pull out of direct combat would undoubtedly lead to a spike in attacks, and it is a fair bet that Iraqis will begin to resent this intensely. This could lead to a resurgence in the insurgencies, and the gains from the surge (which are real) would be lost. Furthermore, in an environment of increased instability and violence, there is no reason to assume that just because our troops aren't engaged in direct combat that they won't continue to die. Suicide attacks on American contractors, the embassy, and military installations would still happen, and probably a good deal more if overall security decreases. Even if you are skeptical about the chances for ultimate success from the surge (which I do not think is an unreasonable perspective), it has been successful. Security has increased dramatically, and the political situation, while still fragile, has improved. To completely abandon the strategy that has brought this limited success and at least has the possibility of success seems to me foolish because the kind of strategy you are suggesting has no chance of success.
b) I don't think this is a serious proposal because no president, once he is in office and realizes he will be held responsible by his people, the world, and history for what happens, will not take a course of action which could result in civil war and genocide. This will hold true regardless of what is said in campaigns.

2) AQ does not live in Afghanistan, it lives in Pakistan. Our mission in Afghanistan is similar to Iraq- to help the Afghanis get to the point where they can handle their own security burden. I suspect we will have a presence there for a while though, to prevent a resurgence of the Taliban. But AQ is in Pakistan, and I don't personally see how more troops would help. They might certainly help against the Taliban, but we're not about to invade Pakistan to find AQ, and even if we did the kind of force we would need to cover the Tribal Areas (which have never been effectively controlled by a government) would be massive.

On a broader level, we have to think of the impact of leaving Iraq on the overall war on terror. You are right that AQ was not in Iraq before 9/11. But they are now, and if we retreat it will be viewed as a massive success. If you look at the history of AQ, our past retreats have not convinced them to stop attacking us, but have emboldened them and given them the idea that they might be able to beat us. They think that they defeated the Soviet Union by forcing it to pull out of Afghanistan. If we pull out of Iraq it will be viewed in the same light. There is a lot of talk about winning the hearts and minds in the Muslim world. To be perfectly frank, I don't think this is possible, at least in the short term. What is possible is to convince people that terrorism is not only wrong, but that it is a failed strategy. And a fact that deserves more attention is that while Arab opinion of the US declined dramatically after the Iraq War, over the past view years Muslim views towards terrorism has become more and more negative. This is a crucial trend, more important from a strategic view than whether Arabs like or do not like the US.

3) "Engage Iran diplomatically and work with them to promote stablility in the Middle East."

Crocker has met with the Iranian ambassador in Iraq. It has not been successful. I don't see what making it "official" will do other than legitimize an evil regime. Engaging diplomatically is not a strategy. Look at Chamberlain (this might seem to be an unfair comparison, but bear with me). Surely there was no doubt at the time that Hitler was an evil human being. But it was reasoned that diplomacy is better than war, and other people's land and freedom was sacrificed to avoid war. But being an evil human being, Hitler's promises meant absolutely nothing to him. Now my concern over Iran is this: this is a regime that sanctions stoning, honor killing, and the death penalty for homosexuality. Its president has denied the holocaust and threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Now what part of that invites compromise? Sure we have used harsh rhetoric against Iran, but it has focused on their actions and our concerns about them- don't get nuclear weapons, don't support terrorism, don't threaten the destruction of Israel. Their rhetoric against us is of another kind. In the apocalyptic worldview encouraged by the regime, everything is controlled by the jews, the US is out to destroy Islam, on and on... Even if you assume that their leaders know this is all false but say it for domestic consumption, can they go against the hate they have cultivated over the past 29 years? Is it reasonable to expect that if we "officially" talk to them that they will change their minds and say the US is actually not the Great Satan, it is ok? Furthermore, what can we offer them? Allow them to have nukes? Or, in classic colonial fashion, carve them a sphere of influence in Iraq? These, to me, are not moral or realistic options. I have heard to many people say that we need to talk to Iran, but I haven't heard the issue of what we should talk about. If I thought official talks would actual do real good, I'd be all behind them, but I just don't see any good coming from it.

And yes, of course Iran is worried because the US is on its borders. So what? You think we should be concerned about the "legitimate" concerns of the clerics? These people are not our friends, their values are morally abhorrent to us. I think war with them is a horrible option, but I think diplomatically legitimizing the rule of holocaust-deniers because we don't have the will to contain them and confront them if necessary will not be judged kindly by history.

The debate is often posed as one between "warmongers" and those who prefer peace. I think all decent people prefer peace. To me, it is a philosophical difference. Some people think that all conflict can be avoided or worked out through negotiations. I don't think this is the case. I think this position is certainly far more supported by history. If you have a regime in Germany that sees its fundamental purpose as eliminating the Jews and conquering Europe, then conflict is inevitable. Such people do not change their minds, and the other nations of Europe are not about to negotiate away their sovereignty (well most of them). The way we in the West think, we assume rationality and we assume that people will generally choose what is in their interest. But while this often holds true, it falls apart in many situations when you recognize that defining someone else's interest is not always easy, or even possible. What you see as the clear interest of Iran may be considered by the leadership to be morally egregious or cowardly or heretical. In the Iranian regime I see a group of people with the fundamental aim of securing a nuclear weapon and dominating the middle east, thus become the leader in the eternal jihad against the infidels. Undoubtedly many in the Iranian elite are more westernized and level-headed and do not share this view, but they are not in power right now. Those in power see terrorism as an effective and justifiable weapon against Jews and Crusaders. They have for the most part thought this way for 29 years, and I do not see their fundamental world view changing because we send Condi Rice or whoever the next Sec of State over to chat with them. If history is a teacher, they will use this opportunity not to work things out but to humiliate the US.

I wish I could believe there was an easy way out, but it is a fundamental difference of values and ideas of how the world should be. I don't see any way out of this conflict. It sucks, but that is the way history always has been.

The nuclear link looks interesting, I'm going to check it out.

Posted by: DHogbood | May 6, 2008 3:30 PM

"It would not be suicidal to pass nuclear material to a terrorist if the regime in question felt confident the attack would not be traceable back to them. There is no reason to believe that if Israel blew up tomorrow we would be able to figure out who did it."

Voodoo Physics. You don't understand nuclear. That somebody could enrich uranium to that degree and deploy an untested weapon is ridiculous. All nuclear weapons have signatures. If a weapon went off that had no traceable signature, it would leave one or two candidates, and their choice would be to prove it wasn't their enrichment facility or face getting nuked.

We know the nuclear enrichment facilities signature of every weapon test that has ever been performed. All tests leak.

"As is clear from Saddam's behavior before the invasion, he completely misread US intentions,"

Nope. You're just regurgitating the MSM meme. There have been plenty of other reports, like the book from the guy who interrogated him. He knew he was toast, and he did make a last ditch effort to deal, which we ignored.

And you're projecting way more than I'm mirroring. What evidence, anywhere, is there that he'd be motivated to nuke the United States? You're completely illogical. He'd give the weapons to terrorists that would nuke us, so we'd then leave him alone? How... obvious?

You forget, Saddam allowed all sorts of inspections. On and on. But you wanted him to prove a negative (as many of us naive folks explained to you before hand). You simply unquestionably accepted the story that he was the most brilliant guy in the world, capable of misleading the CIA, DoD, every foreign intelligence agency (that agreed with us), IAEA for a decade. Naive to think he had every motivation to bluff us, lest no one would be afraid of him any more.

"According to reports he has presented evidence of Iranian interference in Iraq, which they denied."

Awesome that Crocker would share details of that evidence with the supposed guilty party, but they can't tell the rest of us about it.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Or you can just believe what Fox News tells ya.

Posted by: srv | May 6, 2008 3:58 PM

Godwin. You lose. Thx for playing.

Posted by: srv | May 6, 2008 4:03 PM

Well you raise a few good points, and I wish I had time to reply to some of them, but as for 1... your point b), I counter with the US is not responsible for the level of violence in Iraq.

Iraqis are.

It's also interesting that you refer to public opinion polls in Iraq. What about public opinion polls in the US? Hopefully you have a better reply than "So?". A majority of Americans want out, and I suspect deeply resent being held responsible for what Iraqis choose to do with the security we've bought for them at great cost.

If we give the political leadership in Iraq (to include Sadr) a definitive timetable for withdrawal of direct support, they'll have to get serious about making the political accomodations necessary to turn Malaki's irrelevant government into something that works. Malaki especially will be on the hook, since he'd lose a majority of his muscle. You think the Iraqis will eventually be able to provide their own security. I agree, except I don't think Malaki's government will be those Iraqi's. That guy has had years to get his sh*t together, and it hasn't happened. Why should we think it will?

Don't make the mistake that Bush made in Pakistan: Pakistan is important to the fight against global terror, not Musharraf. Bush's support of the dictator left the US with a much weakened position with the Pakistani people. The same is true for Iraq: we need the Iraqi's support, not Malaki's. If he can't run the country on his own, somebody else will.

After the elections in 09, we should "retreat" to an advisory role.

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 6, 2008 5:24 PM

Actually they did make the evidence available. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22323.pdf

Posted by: Leedus | May 6, 2008 7:16 PM

"Nope. You're just regurgitating the MSM meme. There have been plenty of other reports, like the book from the guy who interrogated him. He knew he was toast, and he did make a last ditch effort to deal, which we ignored."

OK, what book is this? I have not heard of it. Have you read it? Does the interrogator thing Saddam saying this was credible?
Even so, that was just one example. Good lord, do you need examples of leaders miscalculating, or of misinterpretations of "interests"?

"You forget, Saddam allowed all sorts of inspections. On and on. But you wanted him to prove a negative (as many of us naive folks explained to you before hand). You simply unquestionably accepted the story that he was the most brilliant guy in the world, capable of misleading the CIA, DoD, every foreign intelligence agency (that agreed with us), IAEA for a decade. Naive to think he had every motivation to bluff us, lest no one would be afraid of him any more."

You're right, Saddam was a trustworthy guy. Everyone was so mean to doubt him. "Prove a negative" was his line. In reality, inspectors, with good reason, wanted him to allow full access, which he never did. Have you read Kay's report? Is he a pawn of the MSM too? Many countries have fooled the CIA, and other intelligence agencies are no different.

Read the evidence the military has released. If you still think these are "extraordinary claims" then I think you know very little about the Iranian regime. Ever read Khameini's speeches?

Posted by: DHobgood | May 6, 2008 7:27 PM

"a) we would be greeted as liberators, b) freedom and democracy would bloom once Saddam was toppled, and c) no sustained occupation or counterinsurgency effort would be necessary."

I don't have a problem with a) and b). I have a big problem with c).

Based on at least the limited anecdotal info I had, there were Iraqis at the start who greeted us as a) liberators, and far more importantly than a), the majority of Iraqis did want b) a better post-Saddam Iraq.

I don't value a) so much because anti-Saddam doesn't neatly equate to pro-America, and the liberation wasn't end-ex - the end of major combat turned immediately into the 'what-now?' of the post-war.

As far as a), my impression was that the US wasn't popular except with the Kurds, which makes sense: why should other Iraqis give their trust to us after what we did to them for 12+ years? An Iraqi college student asked me at the time, if the US was going to invade Iraq for regime change anyway, then why did we first also make them suffer for a decade-plus under Saddam and the sanctions? In a way, better than popularity, most Iraqis held us responsible for post-Saddam Iraq - they believed we owed them big.

It may be that b) would have been equally problematic no matter if we masterfully executed the post-war. Or, it may be that Iraq had true potential for b), but we squandered it through our mistakes. It's hard to judge fairly given the post-war security and occupation failures - hard to build anything when lacking the required foundation.

Because of c), we know less about b) than we ought to make a fair judgement.

Posted by: Eric Chen | May 6, 2008 10:04 PM

Phil, I'd like you to define the "vital interests" we have in the region that are served by our staying in Iraq indefinitely. I don't disagree about the vital interests in the region, but how does staying in Iraq specifically advance those?

Moral obligation. It's been five years. I'm with Perle. ISTM we've actually impeded the Iraqis' ability to build a new nation. We promised them democracy, but we chose their leaders. A lot of 'em don't like our choices. Now they want to fight it out. That's fair. What Iraq needs is a civil war, something we're clumsily interfering in. Bloodletting? You bet. Check the numbers from our civil war. We had to do it. So do they.

By staying, what we're trying to do is somehow influence the Iraqi government to shy away from Iran. Shows you how much we know. Given that the "our" government in Iraq and the majority of Iraqis are Shi'ia, we're swimming upstream. Religion will trump nationalism. The only way we would be able to accomplish the feat would be to bring Saddam Hussein back from the dead and help him reconstitute his Baathist regime.

We're really just being colonialists, trying to reinvent the Raj. But we're not good at it. Check what you're paying for gas to see how good we are at being colonialists. Time to come home.

Posted by: Publius | May 6, 2008 10:45 PM

This is the subtle, recurring theme that we should have gone with Chalabi in the immediate aftermath of the war. When they did the five year retrospective on the war (with pretty much the same cast of characters) Perle pretty much said the same thing-let the Iraqis handle it, only with more direct references to Chalabi & the exiles. Here's the exact quote... "But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein's regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections." which would have resulted in an oligarchic kleptocracy. If we think the war is unpopular now, can you imagine the outrage if servicemen and women were dying for Achmed Chalabi's power play?

Posted by: Matt | May 7, 2008 9:11 AM

DHobgood wrote:
"Now my concern over Iran is this: this is a regime that sanctions stoning, honor killing, and the death penalty for homosexuality"

Gee, that also applies to our buddies the Saudis. And once again, 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. Al Queda was founded to overthrow the Saudi royal family, and it's the US support for the greatest hypocrits on the planet that caused Al Queda to attack us. With friends like them, we don't need enemies.

Instead of spending $500 billion on the war in Iraq, we could have bought 20 million hybrid cars from Ford, GM and Chrystler, provided lots of good jobs for Americans, and simply given the damned things away to the public. And we then could tell the Saudis to literally go pound sand.

Posted by: DanPatrick | May 7, 2008 9:36 AM

Publius:

I have to disagree here: "We promised them democracy, but we chose their leaders. A lot of 'em don't like our choices."
We didn't choose their leaders. I don't see how you got that interpretation. If we had chosen their leaders, most likely Allawi would still be in office, not Maliki. I don't think US officials were ever enthusiastic about Maliki.

Matt:

I think you have a point in that there were certainly risks involved in turning the government over to the Iraqi externals (including Chalabi). I just think that the risks involved here were much less than the course we took. Undoubtedly the externals would not have had universal support among Iraqis, but equally certain is the fact that they would have been viewed as more legitimate than Bremer and the CPA. Also, if this had occurred, they would have made mistakes, but they would have been Iraqi mistakes. By taking on the mantle of occupation, we essentially took up a job that we were not capable or prepared to do, and when we inevitably made mistakes, our legitimacy diminished more and more. There certainly was a danger that the externals would have been unwilling to submit themselves to a fair election, but we could have put considerable pressure on them to do so. I'm not trying to claim that everything would have been peachy had we taken this course, but I do think that there is a good chance things would have gone better.

DanPatrick:

I agree, the Saudi regime is pretty disgraceful. But unfortunately, the numbers just do not allow for what you suggest. If we pushed biofuels to the utmost they would still account for a very small portion of our energy demand; the rest would still come in large part from the Middle East. I did read a recent story about a possible huge oil find in Brazil. If this turns out to be the case, it could help us decrease our reliance on our Saudi "friends."

Posted by: DHobgood | May 7, 2008 11:32 AM

"We didn't choose their leaders. I don't see how you got that interpretation. If we had chosen their leaders, most likely Allawi would still be in office, not Maliki. I don't think US officials were ever enthusiastic about Maliki."

Point taken, Hobgood. But ISTM that the "government"--at all levels encompasses much more than Maliki. And we've been mucking around with all of that since we got there. We should also consider that if Maliki hadn't been deemed acceptable, he wouldn't be there. Yes, Allawi was our "boy," but for the reasons you note, he would have been a trainwreck. It's hard to imagine something worse than one of the exiles, but Bremer and his CPA managed to plumb new lows.

Question: What if Mookie comes out on top? I think there's a good chance of that happening. Then there will for sure be a leader that we didn't choose and we don't like. I'd like to see it happen: he'd throw us out. And if we refused to leave, it would highlight the essential lie regarding our long-term presence.

I agree with Hobgood about the chances of our extricating ourselves from this unholy alliance with the loathsome Saudi regime. Unfortunately, our president's obduracy about increasing the CAFE mileage requirements works in the Saudis' favor. And that of the Iranians, the Venezuleans, etc., etc. And Bush isn't the only one. Our politicians of both parties have been failing the American people for 30 years now when it comes to the entire oil issue. That "Prince" Bandar sure gets around; he's got a lot of our "statesmen" in his pocket.

If you think Iraq is just about (phony) WMDs, human rights, and all the rest, I've got a great used car to sell you.

Posted by: Publius | May 7, 2008 5:00 PM

I don't really disagree with you too much here. It's actually kind of a relief, I'm getting tired of arguing. Just one thing though: "Question: What if Mookie comes out on top? I think there's a good chance of that happening. Then there will for sure be a leader that we didn't choose and we don't like. I'd like to see it happen: he'd throw us out. And if we refused to leave, it would highlight the essential lie regarding our long-term presence."
I don't think this would be a good outcome for anyone, least of all the Iraqi people. Sadr is not a "freedom fighter" as some have attested, he is an extremely cynical and ruthless politician. Countless people have died (mostly Iraqis) in his cynical bid for power. Maliki and his pals aren't saints, but Muqtada is far worse.

Posted by: DHobgood | May 8, 2008 12:14 PM

"It's actually kind of a relief, I'm getting tired of arguing."

Me, too. But I'll say this for you, Hobgood: you're credible and knowledgeable and you do it the right way. Well done.

You bet Mookie's a bad guy, but I fear this will come to pass. And if we're honest about it, we'll admit we've contributed mightily to his staying power. And, as I say, I'd view his ascension with mixed feelings. There is a paucity of American politicians with the courage to call the game; I think it should be called, and I also think it can only be called by an external source. To me, Mookie is the best bet.

I care about America. Iraq is way down on my caring list. Paradoxically, however, I believe our continued presence only harms both nations. We need to move on. So do the Iraqis. No matter the outcome, that oil isn't doing them any good sitting in the ground. They'll sell it to us no matter who's in charge.

Posted by: Publius | May 8, 2008 11:36 PM

I appreciate it, and I agree, I think we had a good discussion here. Perhaps there's hope for us after all!

Posted by: DHobgood | May 9, 2008 8:48 AM

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