Iraqi Blues

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I meant to blog Robin Wright's pessimistic Wash Post op-ed when it appeared on Sunday. The Sivits sentence reminded me of it again. I'm not sure I agree with her; at the very least, I hope that Adeed Dawisha is more correct in suggesting the "complete transparency" in dealing with Abu Ghraib may actually end up being beneficial to the occupation. But Wright's take is worth reading. An excerpt:

What I fear most is that frustration over Iraq and disgust with Abu Ghraib will give common cause and a rallying cry to far-flung Muslim societies. Until now, al Qaeda—with its global reach—has been the exception. Most Islamic groups have had local causes and operated at home or very nearby. And they've always been a distinct minority.

The worst-case scenario is that the Cold War of the 20th century is followed in the early 21st century by a very warm one, with no front lines, unpredictable offensives and a type of weaponry from which we're not yet sure how to protect ourselves. This time the majority could become involved, either by empathizing, sympathizing or actively participating in a cause they see as righting a wrong against them.

The unintended consequence of the Iraq experience could well produce a third generation of militants—a cadre that didn't fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s or train in bin Laden's camps in the 1990s—who will launch a conflict whose tactics, targets and goals will be even more amorphous. Their conflict will be more than an intensified or expanded war on terrorism. And, I fear, we'll be groping for a long time to figure out how to counter it—and how to get back to finishing that final chapter of the Modern Era.

Whole thing here.

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  1. I think she’s a late-comer to the already established reality!

    Second, I’m not sure how “local” these guys are. This is the dynamic, in case she missed it:

    All these Islamists have been purged out of their countries, so they are operating in host (mainly European) countries. As they perceive that their local problems stem from, or are exacerbated by, the West, their “local” fight becomes quickly globalized.

    As for how to counter it, the Iraq war seems to be the problem (in her view) as well as the answer. The idea is return those people to “local” politics, by providing them with the space to do so. The idea is to remove those regimes (who are the problem for Islamists, but who also export them to the West) and to allow participation in government. That would allow the non-Islamists who are now out of the dual equation (dictators vs. islamists) to actually take center stage, rendering the islamists merely a part of a much more complex mosaic, not the only organized alternative to dictatorship.

    It seems unfair that we should expect that of Iraq, RIGHT NOW! It will take time, but if it is followed through, that will be an enormous first step. Already even in this terrible situation Iraq is in today, it’s sparking changes and debates. Routinely check the Lebanese Daily Star’s opinion page to see what I mean (see if you can find the piece by Volker Perthes in their opinion section).

    What is NOT a good solution, is what Colin Powell seems to be suggesting, which is to place the ball in the hands of the regimes themselves. For a brutal response to that position (and a disdain for the ever-present Palestinian excuse), see this piece by Ramzy Baroud, published in the aforementioned paper.

    This is the heart of the matter. As far as I’m concerned, the anti-war movement’s obssession with the WMDs and the “distraction for the war on al-Qaeda” nonsense, completely misses the point.

  2. Reads like the same old “Arab street will rise against us” crap to me.

  3. Basically the same amorphous fearmongering with new “root causes” for fodder. 5 years from now, no one will be talking about prisoner abuse–the media line will either be how well Iraq is developing now that we’ve left, or what a shithole it has become because of us (and there will be people arguing both sides regardless of the facts).

    The prisoner abuse scandal has only given the “Why do they hate us?” types a sacred image for their self-flagellation. As Tony says, it misses the real point(s) entirely.

  4. Is it so hard for neo-cons to grasp that many of us “get the point” of their grandiose visions, but still don’t believe in them?

  5. David,
    Neo-cons are incapable of grasping anything, because they have long since stopped listening, or even thinking for that matter. Neo-cons came to hold their opinions when they became “born again” conservatives, and the truth was revealed to them by God. Since what they believe is divine truth, it is perfect and infallible. Therefore, no actual facts or transpiring of events could ever undermine Gods plan.

  6. I don’t speak for neo-cons David (nor do I necessarily share all their views), but I can tell you that unfortunately it seems that the anti-war movement either doesn’t get the point (those fixated on WMDs and the “distraction from the war on al Qaeda”), or if it does, its counter position simply doesn’t hold water.

    Doesn’t it bother you that what now passes as “leftist opposition” to the war is eerily similar to Realpolitik and isolationism (not to be harsher and say self-absorbed, condescending, post-modernist nihilism and moral relativism?)

    I recommend you read Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism.

  7. Warren: Neo-cons are incapable of grasping anything, because they have long since stopped listening, or even thinking for that matter.

    You mean as opposed to the non-dogmatic Secular/Liberal/Atheists???

    Warren: Neo-cons came to hold their opinions when they became “born again” conservatives, and the truth was revealed to them by God.

    ?God? or ?TLOP??

    Atoms obey the laws of physics.
    You are made of atoms and nothing else.
    You obey the laws of physics.

    Warren: Since what they believe is divine truth, it is perfect and infallible. Therefore, no actual facts or transpiring of events could ever undermine Gods plan.

    If you are suggesting there is some way to defy the Laws of Physics (i.e. TLOP?s divine plan) then I am sure all the little ?Neo-cons? would love to see a demonstration.

  8. David,
    It would help if the opposition would at least acknowledge the point to indicate that they understood it, instaed of fussing endlessly over semantics and relative trivia.

    If we say for argument’s sake that the “real point” is broader than the immediate issues of WMD, ousting a lunatic homicidal dictator, rebuking the UN, etc–and is actually more long term, ie. improving the security of America as well as the rest of the world by taking a gamble and attempting to bring stability, rule of law, and economic prosperity to the region of the world that is most likely to strap on a nailbomb and crash your next party–let’s address that issue. Where are the discussions on the feasability, desireability, etc, of that goal? Soldiers spanking prisoners is a problem for sure, but it is not The Point.

  9. Chu says the real point of the Iraq Invasion is
    “improving the security of America as well as the rest of the world by taking a gamble and attempting to bring stability, rule of law, and economic prosperity to the region of the world that is most likely to strap on a nailbomb and crash your next party.”

    The word “gamble” is well chosen. Opponents of the war do not oppose attemtps to stabilize the Middle East, nor do we oppose the overthrow of dictators, in the Middle East or elsewhere. It is war that we oppose, and the actual results of this war validate such opposition.

    You cannot justify a failed policy on the basis of a utopian fantasy. It has been tried of course – the Stalinists justified forcible collectivisation of farming because their goal was to increase food production. But collective farms actually resulted in less food production.

    Just so, if deterring Islamic terrorism was the goal of the Iraq War, it has been less than a complete success. There continue to be terrorist attacks on western targets, and the population of the Arab & Islamic countries are more hostile to America than ever.

  10. “Opponents of the war do not oppose attemtps to stabilize the Middle East, nor do we oppose the overthrow of dictators, in the Middle East or elsewhere. It is war that we oppose, and the actual results of this war validate such opposition.”

    The problem is that most anti-war people were anti-war before the war, so pragmatic result aren’t the real reason for current opposition. You can disguise “I told you so” in many ways, but it doesn’t make it a more valid ideological position. And it’s easy to say that you don’t oppose bringing down dictators, or bringing stability to the ME, but what if armed intervention is the olny way to do that? Which preference wins out? If sanctions don’t work (as liberals often point out), and war is unconscionable, what is your solution? Terrorists aren’t going to stop attacking Western targets when we are gone from Iraq. They certainly didn’t wait for us to get there before pulling off 9/11.

    Yes, it is a gamble, but don’t compare it to Stalin. The neocons have at least learned the lessons of communism (though academics haven’t), and the current project is the exact opposite of Stalin. And the racist condescension of writing off democratic society for the entire middle east as ‘utopian fantasy’ is just breathtaking, coming from people who claim the humanitarian and intellectual highground.

  11. I like the piece, except the premise is wrong, the facts are false and the conclusions don’t follow.

    The trouble with this Cassandra nonsense is we only have one history, so if anything goes bad (as it always will) naysayers can pretend to be accurate forecasters. The only real comparison, which unfortunately we can never get, is what would have happened if we’d done nothing (or done other things).

  12. Chu,

    Your arguement is logical but misapplied to Iraq and wrongly assumes some basic change in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

    The main issue the Arab world has with the U.S. is that while we are talking about democracy, liberty and free markets our government’s actions tell dictators in the area that as long as they keep the oil flowing (if they have it), don’t overtly threaten Israel, and occasionally put themselves at risk by supporting the U.S. in some enterprise against the will of their people, they can do whatever they like inside their countries.

    Removing Saddam Hussein fits neatly with that perception. He stopped playing by those rules so we punished him and eventually took him out. The dictatorships that produced the 9/11 hijackers, the leadership of al Qaida and the Taliban are still in place because they are still playing by the rules above. Many relatively new dictators in Central Asia are now benefiting from a similar relationship with our government.

    With regard to establishing a democracy in Iraq, it is certainly racist to think arab societies are incapable of moving in that direction. The issue is U.S. credibility to lead them there.

    After WWI, America’s standing in the third world was high and basically ours to lose. We did a tremendous job of destroying it during the Cold War by talking freedom and democracy but actually supporting the colonial powers and then the dictators that replaced them.

    Basically, the U.S. needs a basic level of trust from the locals to get the cooperation necessary for spreading democracy in the Middle East. U.S. policy has decades of history to overcome to get that and is showing no signs of changing directions. Neocons have not significantly changed the rules, the punishment for violating them has only gotten stiffer.

  13. Tony,

    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    The neo-con vision has come in for plenty of criticism. It’s absurd for you to claim that things don’t happen just because you miss them.

    Realpolitik and “isolationism” are pretty much my perspective on foreign policy. I would be happy for more leftists to embrace them, but I haven’t noticed that they have.

  14. David,

    How’s that “Isolationism” gonna play when the nuke goes off in NYC, creating a global depression?

  15. “…Cold War of the 20th century…”

    The “Cold War” was not very cold; it was really a hot war.

    And she is right to fear the unintended consequences of the current war in Iraq; as anyone with half a brain would be at the unintended consequences of *any* war.

  16. Captain:
    “so if anything goes bad (as it always will) naysayers can pretend to be accurate forecasters. The only real comparison, which unfortunately we can never get, is what would have happened if we’d done nothing (or done other things).”

    This is illogical on a couple levels, one of which is the implication that since we only have one existence in the space time continuum all criticism is invalid!

    Of course, he does render criticisms complete with his own predictions. In a different thread Captain actually wrote that if our government leaves Iraq the result would be:

    “millions more dead in the Mideast and later millions dead in America”……….(?))

  17. Millions of deaths, he says! Actually, the only way that is likely to happen is if Captain is in possession of several nuclear weapons and our government’s departure from Iraq causes him to have a temper tantrum.

  18. David Tomlin,

    Yeah, if “isolationism” is a non-interventionist foreign policy, count me in too. Another way to put it is, the government really shouldn’t have any foreign policy at all, only a defense policy. The operative word here being DEFENSE, not elective wars!

    Actually, using the word isolationist to describe a non-interventionist foreign policy is miss-leading because when troops aren’t crossing borders, goods tend to do so, and as von Mises observed, “when goods don’t cross borders troops soon do.” The adage certainly came true in Iraq.

  19. In a fable The Lion, the Fox, and the Beasts, written by the 5th century BC Greek writer Aesop, the lion asks why the fox did not pay him a visit to his cave. “I beg your Majesty’s pardon ” replied the fox, “but I noticed the track of the animals that have already come to you; and while I see many hoof-marks going in, I see none coming out.” The moral of the story, according to Aesop: “it is easier to get into the enemy’s toils than out again”.

  20. Warren: Neo-cons are incapable of grasping anything, because they have long since stopped listening, or even thinking for that matter.

    You mean as opposed to the non-dogmatic Secular/Liberal/Atheists???

    Warren: Neo-cons came to hold their opinions when they became “born again” conservatives, and the truth was revealed to them by God.

    ?God? or ?TLOP??

    Atoms obey the laws of physics.
    You are made of atoms and nothing else.
    You obey the laws of physics.

    Warren: Since what they believe is divine truth, it is perfect and infallible. Therefore, no actual facts or transpiring of events could ever undermine Gods plan.

    If you are suggesting there is some way to defy the Laws of Physics (i.e. TLOP?s divine plan) then I am sure all the little ?Neo-cons? would love to see a demonstration.

    Posted by The Serpent at May 19, 2004 05:17 PM

    To “The Serpent” when he wrote as in the above :
    “If you are suggesting there is some way to defy the Laws of Physics (i.e. TLOP?s divine plan) then I am sure all the little ?Neo-cons? would love to see a demonstration.”

    The demonstration is very clear. The divine plan, the divine spark is evident in Mankind. Look around at all that we create. And all that we write, and all that we say. We are light years ahead of any animal on this planet when it comes to what we create. Our music, our art, our science. Now, look at our values, mores, philosophy, theology, what we speak and write about these subjects…

    Say that there is no demonstration of the divine in Man.

    If we are but atoms then we obey the laws of physics. And we would be nothing better than the highest animals. There would be no philosophy, no writing, no expression beyond what is readily apparent in the natural world.

    Man, an animal, has the divine spark. He transcends the natrual laws of “physics” with ingenuity. He went to the moon, and is on the verge of going to other planets.

    How many other animals can transcend the laws of “physics” and do the same ?

    Mankind is unique, in what we think, say, and do. The divine spark ins in us, and our civilization, our social mores are an expression of that.

    That is what sets us apart from the ground laws of physics and mere atoms and puts us in the eyes and mind of God.

  21. Gary,

    Great Aesop. Could you please send it to the powers that be?

  22. I invite all that would like to discuss this in a this new forum group

    “Call For Justice 911”

    Click my call name to get there

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