Category Archives: Iraq

Just when we thought we were out we’re pulled back in!

Once again, the United States has let itself be manipulated and baited into an undeclared war, for the second time in the Middle East.  The initial scope has been proclaimed to be limited, but as in the past, it isn’t clear what will keep that scope limited.

Now in the sixth decade of life, I feel like I have seen this movie before, and I fear how it will end.  Mostly I fear I’ve seen the end before.  In my life I’ve seen Vietnam, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, and Gulf War II.  Of these, only one in retrospect seems like it had realistic, necessary and achieved goals:  Gulf War I.

Vietnam, of course escalated steadily for almost a decade, failed to stop the tumbling of dominos by Communists in Southeast Asia, and its failure to do so never really showed why it mattered to the US anyway.

Gulf War I had a clear and achievable goal:  removing Sadam from Kuwait.  Leaving him in Kuwait still seems in retrospect like it wouldn’t have been wise  .  That limited goal was also achieved.

Afghanistan at its outset seemed and seems like it was unavoidable.  9/11 did require a response.  Unfortunately, the mission became nation building, and in that culture so different from that of US – tied culturally to Europe-the US has sunk live and treasure to no apparent end other than successfully dispersing the Al Qaeda nest.  At the least many goals were not realistic or achieved.

Gulf War II never had a goal other than taking out our collective anger on an Arab state.  It felt good at first, but was likely never necessary.  Over time the goal morphed as we realized that we had to leave some kind of state in our wake.  Unfortunately, that necessary goal has proved beyond our grasp.

Because of that fact, now we are heading back to Iraq in response to the chaos we have left there.  I can’t help but think that we will in the end only further make a mess of that area.


A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair

I got interested in this book by watching an interview with Tony Blair on the Daily Show.  I was also interested in his defense of the Iraq, that I thought was a terrible mistake, but I am also willing to think I could be wrong.  The ultimate result of the Iraq war is likely to bad, but it is pure hubris on anyone’s part to be certain of anything about that war.  As a one time supporter with profound buyer’s regret, I can’t seem to get away from the subject.

So what did I learn?  Pretty much that as I said we don’t know what the consequences of the war will be.  He suggests that if we hadn’t dealt with Saddam in 2003 we would have just done so later.  He relates a number of stories of Iraqis, that leave no doubt about what a monster Saddam Hussein was. 

On the other hand he admits to every day asking given the bloodshed, the lack of WMD, the terrorism:  would he do it again?  Also, one gets the general sense that Britain, while ultimately supportive at great cost to Tony Blair of the US’ war, held out for more time and diplomacy than the Bush administration supported.  He also wanted a role for the UN in post war Iraq over the opposition of not surprisingly, Dick Cheney.

Overall he had more ambivalence about this than the Americans and likely more still now.   She sums this up pretty well with this story:

I still keep in my desk a letter from an Iraqi woman who came to see me before the war began.  She told me of the appalling torture and death her family had experienced having fallen foul of Saddam’s son.  She begged me to act.  After the fall of Saddam she returned to Iraq.  She was murdered by sectarians a few months later.  What would she say to me now?

He makes as good case for the war as you can make I think.  But even then his is far from sure.  The costs of that war are very clear, and its benefits uncertain at best.  I wish we hadn’t done it.

Though he considers himself a progressive, he spends a lot of time on post partisanship writing:

Defining where you stand by reference to the opposite of where the other person stands is not just childish, it is completely out of touch with where politics is today….the real risk-right or left-is that at the very moment when the public has lost its enthusiasm for traditional political divisions, the parties and their activists become more obsessed with them.

I’d like to think public discourse and politics should be more about building consensus or at least compromise that has at least willingness to tolerate.  These days it talked about more like war:  lets crush the opposition, they have nothing useful to say.

US Decline to Normalacy, and its need to accept being Ordinary

Good advice.  America has a proud history and has accomplished many great things.  Defeating fascism, ending slavery, creating a long lasting democracy.  But we need to face up to the fact that we’re only human just like every other damn nation.

From Crooked Timbers (edited and emphasis added)

There was another round of the more-or-less endless debate about the decline of the US …

As a public service, I’d like to bring an end to this tiresome debate by observing that the decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population[1]. Precisely because the US is comparable to other advanced countries in many crucial respects, there is no reason to expect any further decline. [2]

In geopolitical terms, the US spends a lot more on its military than anyone else (in fact, more than everyone else put together) and (contrary to the beliefs of most Americans) hardly anything on development aid or other efforts at promoting global public goods. The amount of sustainable influence generated as a result appears pretty trivial. The number of places in the world where the US can directly determine, or even substantially influence, political outcomes is approximately zero…

On the other hand, it has to be conceded that the record of non-military aid and public good promotion is not exactly one of stellar success either. The fact is that the world is a complicated and intractable place, and running your own country is hard enough – the fact that international efforts work as well as they do is more surprising than the fact that so many fail…

The main implication of all this, for me, is that Americans should stop worrying about relative “decline”, “competitiveness” and so on, and start focusing on making the US a better place to live.

When we forget that and we become fixated with Amercian Exceptionalism, we do stupid things, such as:  trying to impose democracy at gun point.  We become drunk on the idea that we can always shape the world to our liking.  We feel we have the right to do so too.

We also become fearful about losing these powers we didn’t have, and shouldn’t want.  We can’t accept our ordinariness.  It’s a human failing I suppose, after all the Catholic church couldn’t accept that the Earth isn’t at the center of the solar system.  Science once believed that Earth was rarely struck by meteorites, that we were different than the Moon with its obvious evidence of impacts.

Accepting that we are ordinary doesn’t mean that we should never attempt the extraordinary sometimes.  But before we enter onto any extraordinary quest, we should think long and hard.  We’ve entered or slid into a lot of stupid quests since the end of the second world war. 

Vietnam was a war that if we had avoided, I don’t think you can argue anyone would have been worse off.   We’d have the same communist Vietnam and thousand would still be alive. 

Korea given the odious North may have been worth fighting, but if we hadn’t I wonder if a unified Korea wouldn’t include the nuclear capacity wielded by an insane family line as we do now. 

The first Gulf war was I think done right.  We worked with our allies.  We had a clear national interest at stake.  We had a clear and limited objective and a well though out plan to achieve it.

The Afghanistan war started well, but I think may have veered too much into nation building that may be beyond our grasp.

Iraq was and is a train wreak.  We had no clear interest.  We had no plan.  We have attempted something beyond our ability, and even if we could do it, its not clear we should.

When the party may be over for the tea-party

We talk a lot now about the teaparty as force.  In fact though I think it is most defined as implacably opposed to Barack Obama, but not otherwise.  This is especially true on foreign policy.  After the Congress is seated, some divisions may become very clear.


A perspective on the lack of unity was in the New Republic:


Now that the midterm elections are over and voices of the Tea Party will soon be established in Congress, the movement’s views on foreign policy will come under closer scrutiny, and the results may prove surprising, not least to the Tea Partiers themselves. Those views are far from Republican orthodoxy. On some issues, the Tea Partiers will predictably line up with the Republican leadership, but on others they may find they have more in common with Democrats. They may even provide Barack Obama with unexpected support. Those who think Sarah Palin speaks for the Tea Party on foreign policy haven’t been paying attention.

It’s hard enough to define Tea Party policies on domestic issues. As Kate Zernike writes in Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America, the movement “meant different things to different people—even those within the movement could not always agree on what they wanted.” But the Tea Party is the soul of rationality and consistency on domestic issues compared to its stand on foreign policy questions. There is simply no there there. (Click here to view a slideshow of the silliest, scariest, and most NSFW Wikileaks.)

Books on the Tea Partiers, like Zernike’s, barely mention foreign policy, and most of the media are no better in their coverage. A search of the Web turns up little more, an occasional blog post or cursory comment, but nothing of any real substance. Probably the most extensive discussion of the subject was written by P.J. O’Rourke, a humorist. Asked if the Tea Party had a foreign policy, Dick Armey, who has made himself one of the movement’s stalwarts, responded, “I don’t think so.” Analysts of the Tea Party’s foreign policy are therefore working largely in the dark. Still, one can glimpse occasional flickers of light that permit some extrapolations and tentative conclusions.

Has Iraq Stabilized?

Maybe not.


Jeffrey Miron

via Has Iraq Stabilized?.