500,000 or Nothing at All

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Wesley Clark, probably the Democrats' best-regarded voice on military matters, takes to the Washington Post to make the interventionist's case against a surge.

Yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would allow for more roadblocks, patrols and neighborhood-clearing operations. Some initial successes would be evident. But how significant would this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq. In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of 2 million. That ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops in Iraq; adding 20,000 now seems too little, too late.

Further, U.S. troops so far have lacked the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas "cleared" can be "held." The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required. Nor are the Iraqi troops reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Even if militia fighters in Baghdad can be temporarily suppressed, they could redeploy to continue the fight in other areas.

It's almost eerie how little you hear this point of view in Washington right now. The "surge" proposal is regarded as lousy, but tough, which says so much about the city's obsession with image and boredom with results. Pretend you had shares in a failing, all but doomed business, and the board presented you with two options. One: They file for Chapter 11 and attempt to restructure. (Read: Start pulling troops out.) Two: They beat up some mobsters and hold them for ransom in a ploy to make $10 million. (Read: Send a more troops in even if they're less than you need.) The second option requires a little more physical courage, but you'd never actually take it, or the schmuck who suggested it, very seriously.

But it's all about image. As Joe Klein puts it in a truly hilarious blog post, "The Democrats who oppose the so-called "surge" are right. But they have to be careful not to sound like ill-informed dilettantes when talking about it." Because whether or not the opponents sound like sissies is so much more important than whether the idea is idiotic and won't work.

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  1. Wesley Clark should be happy, Bush is handing the Whitehouse to the Dems on a silver platter in ’08.

  2. Clark makes some monumentally stupid statements in this article.

    “Well before the 2003 invasion, the Bush administration was sending signals that its intentions weren’t limited to Iraq; “regime change” in Syria and Iran was often discussed in Washington. Small wonder then that both countries have worked continuously to feed the fighting in Iraq.”

    Yes, the only reason Iran and Syria are meddling in Iraq is because of the U.S.. Bullshit. They are interfering in Iraq because a stable and prosperous Iraq is a huge threat to their regime’s existence. No amount of ass kissing on the U.S.’s part is going to change that fact.

    “Dealing with meddling neighbors is an essential element of resolving the conflict in Iraq. But this requires more than border posts and threatening statements. The administration needs a new strategy for the region, before Iran gains nuclear capabilities. While the military option must remain on the table, America should take the lead with direct diplomacy to resolve the interrelated problems of Iran’s push for regional hegemony and nuclear power, the struggle for control of Lebanon, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Isolating our adversaries hasn’t worked.”

    Diplomacy how to accomplish what? No one should be able to use the word “diplomacy” in any debate. The word means nothing. Yes, Iran wants to be a regional hegemon, until there is different leadership in Iran, what is there to talk about? Unless Clark can give some kind of common ground for understanding between Iran and the U.S. he is saying nothing. What exactly can the U.S. offer Iran that will cause them to stop interfering in Iraq and give up its nuclear program? If Clarke can’t answer that question, then what he is saying is meaningless or at best wishful thinking.

    We know that Iran is funding and encouraging both the Shia and the Sunni forces in Iraq. Jim Baker and Wesley Clark may not think that chaos in Iraq is in Iran’s best interest, but apparently the Iranians disagree.

    Clarke may or may not be right about additional troops accomplishing anything. But, he needs to stop kidding himself into believing that there are any obvious solutions to Syria and Iran interfering there.

  3. John,
    I’m sure Clark the general and Clark the politican would do/say different things about Iraq and the Middle East quagmire. Here he’s is just being the politican: attacking Bush’s Middle East strategy and laying the blame at Bush’s feet whether it really belongs there or not.
    In any case, Bush got us into this mess and someone else will have to get us out.

  4. David,

    We know you hate the whole Iraq affair and everyone associated with it, but your criticisms are frequently off-target. For example, your “kidnap mobsters” analogy makes no sense whatsoever. (A company proposes criminal activity != a government proposes reinforcing existing troops; need for $ != need to reduce sectarian violence; etc.)

    Moreover, why is it ridiculous to say that critics of a major proposal should be careful not to sound uninformed? Lord knows there are lots of uninformed idiots in Washington criticizing everything in sight; most of us ignore those who sound uninformed or dilletant-ish. Klein’s advice is sound.

  5. John:

    “No one should be able to use the word “diplomacy” in any debate.”

    This is perhaps the greatest failure of the right wing, i.e., the failure to recognize the value of diplomacy. I sense too many Pattons in the right wing corral. The above statement leads to Rummy’s conclusion that we shouldn’t talk to Iran because it won’t lead to anything. Yet, we are mired in a military quagmire because we did not fully appreciate the scope of our enemies. I don’t see how talking to them can lessen our understanding. Also keep in mind that diplomacy also extends to our allies who may help us or possibly have influence where we do not.

  6. Lamar,

    You can use the word diplomacy if you can give it meaning. There is nothing wrong with talking to Iran. Talking is not a solution, however, if you don’t have some idea of what you want the people you are talking to to do and some idea of how to get them to do it. I am not saying force is the answer to every question. What I am saying is that to talk for the sake of talking is not a solution and to throw out negotiation and process as an end in itself is just as stupid and ill informed as claiming force is the solution to every problem. If Clark could say what the Iranians really want is “X” and here is a realistic way we can give it to them consistent with our interests and solve the problem, then he would have a point. He doesn’t’ do that however. Instead he just throws out the term “diplomacy” like the mere act of talking will accomplish anything. We have been talking to the Iranians for years to no avail. What can be done differently now that will change things? If you can’t answer that question, then advocating diplomacy is not an answer.

  7. Iran and Syria are supporting/tolerating insurgents and militias in Iraq in order to tie us down, our of fear that American troops with time on their hands just across the border will mean regime change wars against their own countries. The diplomatic solution Clark is talking about is to renounce invading their countries and maintaining military forces in Iraq, in exchange for having them curtail, rather than back up, armed forces in Iraq.

  8. “We have been talking to the Iranians for years…”

    We have been threatening the Iranians for years, while maintaining 100,000-200,000 troops on their western border and a few thousand more on the eastern border, all the while supporting and acting on a doctrine which encompassing waging a major war on their country and overthrowing their government.

  9. Lamar:

    John is obviously right. But I don’t understand why he would try to debate the points made by Wesley Clarke.

    John, you should just punch Wesley Clarke and anyone else who disagrees with you. “Debate” is like “diplomacy” — meaningless.

  10. How about we engage in talks with Iran but insist that Iraq, Afghantistan and Saudi Arabia be at the table as well? Whatever Iran’s aspirations are, they would certainly affect her neighbors. Do the same thing with Syria but insist that Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel be at the table. Make these two countries face the pot they are trying to stir up.

  11. Iran and Syria are sending people accross the border into Iraq because they have a vested interest in Iraq failing. Why on earth would Syria or Iran want a successful prosporous democratic Iraq? Iraq is the natural superpower of the region. They have oil, population and water. Something no other country sans Iran has. Further, they are Iran’s historic enemy. Lastly, if Iraq were to succeed as a democratic nation, it would greatly encourage Syria and Iran’s own population to rebell against their regimes. How is talking to Iran going to change that? Further, if what you are saying is true, that Iran is only attacking Iraq because they are convinced the U.S. is out to get them, what could the U.S. possibly do to convince them otherwise? All talking to Iran is going to do is end in paying Iran protection money an allowing them time and assets to complete their nuclear program. We saw the same thing in 1994 with North Korea. Clinton paid them protection money and they never abided by the agreement for a moment. Now we have a nuclear North Korea. Granted, short of war there was nothing we could have done to stop them, but couldn’t we have at least avoided paying them protection money? Is there any murderous regime you don’t whose ass you don’t want to kiss Joe?

  12. “Iran and Syria are sending people accross the border into Iraq because they have a vested interest in Iraq failing.”

    No, Iran is sending (and Syria not stopping) people across the border becasue they have a vested interest in US failing. They most certainly are not putting this effort into causing the democratic, relatively prosperous, stable Turkish government from failing.

    “Iraq is the natural superpower of the region.” Iran in the natural superpower in the region. It’s considerably larger, and more unified.

    A democratic Iraq would be a Shiite-dominated Iraq, as we’re all learning, which is very much what Iran desires (as well as Syria, another founding member of the Shiite Cresent).

    Iran would love to see a prosperous, majoritarian Iraq on its border, John. It’s very much in their strategic interest. They just don’t want to see an American client state.

    “Clinton paid them protection money and they never abided by the agreement for a moment.” Actually, they abided by the terms of the agreement for the entirety of Clinton’s term.

  13. Now that someone has answered the question John thought unanswerable, he ignores the points raised and retreats to name calling.

    Ass kissing? Well, you’re a poopy-head. So there.

  14. Joe,

    Iran wants an Iranian dominated Iraq. There is a difference. Iraqi Shias are not Persians. They are Arabs. They hate the Persians. Further, Iran has an Arab minority that is treated like shit and would love to join their Arab bretheren in Iraq. It is not so simple as Shia versus Suni. There is also the Persian versus Arab issue. Just because IRaq is shia doesn’t mean it is pro Iranian. They do not want to see a prosperous Iraq. Iraq has been since the dawn of times, Iran’s natural rival. They fought an 8 year war against Iraq. Iraq is what stands between Iran and donimination of the middle east. Why do you think the Arab states put Saddam up to invading Iran? Because they new that Iraq was the one country close enough and strong enough to stop the Iranians. That fact hasn’t changed.

    I am answering your questions Joe. You just don’t like the answers and revert to your usual smug uninformed self.

  15. There is a great article in the Dec. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC about the U.S. wounded in Iraq. It’s quite graphic, missing limbs, brain injuries, etc. In Iraq, we have to distinguish hopes from certainties. Bush hopes that the surge will help, but there is no certainty. What is certain is that some of the 17,000 “surgees” will be killed or seriously wounded.

  16. John, you’re analysis is dead wrong. Iran and Syria’s regime fear their annhilation.

    To say that ANYONE fears a stable and prospersous neighbor reaches the heights of stupidity in a statement. (it’s up there with “they hate our freedoms”)

    Iran and Syria are akin to Mobsters, you scratch their back they’ll scratch yours. There’s no honor or trust involved, it’s cold self interest. If you align self interest right in geopolitics anything is possible. If you keep talking like an idealogue detached from reality. You’ll get Iraq like events and then scramble to blame everything under the sun for why your predictions failed.

  17. John, I already knew every datum of information you provided.

    In all of the time you have been posting, you have never – not once – told me an accurate fact that I didn’t already know.

    The next time you find yourself providing me with information you think I don’t realize, save yourself the effort.

  18. “Iraq has been since the dawn of times, Iran’s natural rival.”

    Correction: Iraq did not exist until world war 1.

    Iraq’s Shia population that you say are “Arabs” and hate persians are actually “persians” who went Arab to get better jobs.

    The Saudi Ministers are complaining that when they call Hotels in Basra people are answering in Persian not Arabic.

    Again, we seem to have an intelligence failure here.

  19. Not only is your information universally understood, John, but it’s also wholly irrelevant. Nothing I wrote changes because of the ethnic split between Iranian and Iraqi shiites.

    The fact that Iran wants a friendly, compliant Iraq (or “Iran wants an Iranian dominated Iraq.”) refuted, rather than supports, your earlier statement that “Iran wants Iraq to fail.” As I wrote earlier, a majoritarian, undivided Iraq is a Shiite-dominated Iraq, and one which will be allied with Iran. So there’s an ethnic divide – that doesn’t seem to have stopped Iran and Hezbollah from being allies. Or even Iran and Syria.

    I think your eagerness to perceive yourself as tougher and better than everyone else is interfering with your reasoning skills.

  20. Thanks for not responding to anything I said Joe. Again, you just revert to your smug self.

    Yes, Iraq did not exist as Iraq before World War I, but the arabs who lived there were certainly Iran’s natural enemy since about the 8th Century and the Babylonians and Assyrians long before that. Iraqis are not Persians. This shias in Southern Iraq are not Persians. They are Arabs. There is a small minority of Arbas in Southwestern Iran.

    You people assume that everyone thinks like you do. They don’t. The Iranian rulers are interested in one thing; staying in power. They are like every autocratic regime horribly afraid of their own people. The worst thing that could happen for them would be for a neighboring country to have a free and stable society. It is the same reason why Western Europe was a threat to the old Soviet Block. Their mere existence and prosperity after the second world war pointed out the failures of the Soviet System to the people of Eastern Europe. The Iranian rulers realize that and want Iraq to be in chaos and to fail.

  21. “So there’s an ethnic divide – that doesn’t seem to have stopped Iran and Hezbollah from being allies. Or even Iran and Syria.”

    Hezbollah are Lebonese not Iraqis, there is a difference.

  22. Joe,

    You assume that just because they are Shia they want to be lackies to the Iranians. That is just not true. Further, if what you are saying is true, why is Iran supporting extremist on both the Suni and Shia side? If Iran thought that a Shia dominated stable Iraq was in their interest, they would be supporting just the Shia and helping to wipe out the Suni insurgency. Instead, we know they are supporting the Suni insurgency. How do you explain that?

  23. I responded to everything you said, John.

    I dismissed it, and explained why.

    “The Iranian rulers are interested in one thing; staying in power.” Yes, now, what threat to their power do the Iranians perceive in Iraq? Could it be the presence of a large army from the world’s greatest superpower on their border? The one that keeps declaring its interest in overthrowing the Iranian government?

    “The worst thing that could happen for them would be for a neighboring country to have a free and stable society.” Still not admitting thet existence of Turkey, eh?

    Contrary to the fantasies you indulged in for the last few years (at the cost of a whole lot of other people’s blood), the Reverse Domino Effect didn’t happen. Quite the opposite, this litter adventure has done just the opposite, squashing the Iranian resistance movement to near-oblivion. Right now, with the American War still raging on their border, and convenient-devil Bush still doing everything he can threaten Iran, the people have rallied around the flag to an extraordinary degree. Popular opposition is the last thing the Iranians need to worry about right now.

    And, btw, we have your little adventure to thank for that.

  24. You of course won’t explain the Iranian support for the Suni groups Joe. You either won’t say anything or just accuse me of name calling.

  25. “Hezbollah are Lebonese not Iraqis, there is a difference.”

    They’re Arabs. Let’s go to the tape:

    “Iraqi Shias are not Persians. They are Arabs. They hate the Persians. Further, Iran has an Arab minority that is treated like shit and would love to join their Arab bretheren in Iraq. It is not so simple as Shia versus Suni. There is also the Persian versus Arab issue.”

  26. Again Joe,

    What exactly do we have to offer Iran other than protection money? Talk to them about what? To accomplish what? Even if we give them protection money, what possible motivation do they have to be true to their word? Why not just take the money and still undermine Iraq and build nukes. I am not saying bomb Iran, I am just saying you and Clark are kidding yourselves if you think that diplomacy is an option at this point. Further, U.S. or not, the IRanian regime is still wildly unpopular in Iran.

  27. Hezbollah are Arabs but they are not Iraqis. Again, if Iran is so interested in a stable IRaq, why are they supporting both sides?

  28. “If Iran thought that a Shia dominated stable Iraq was in their interest, they would be supporting just the Shia and helping to wipe out the Suni insurgency. Instead, we know they are supporting the Suni insurgency. How do you explain that?”

    Because we’re there, and supporting Sunni attacks on us hurts us. Once again, what you offer as evidence for your argument served to prove mine.

    Second, because the Shiites are clearly going to win the civil war, so fostering civil war brings about the conditions they want.

  29. “You of course won’t explain the Iranian support for the Suni groups Joe. You either won’t say anything or just accuse me of name calling.”

    OOooh, that’s gotta hurt.

    “What exactly do we have to offer Iran other than protection money?” Let’s go to the tape:

    “The diplomatic solution Clark is talking about is to renounce invading their countries and maintaining military forces in Iraq, in exchange for having them curtail, rather than back up, armed forces in Iraq.” joe, from 3:17

    They’re not looking for money. They’re looking for us to renounce our implied intention to wage full-scale war against their country, overthrow their government, and occupy it with our soldiers.

  30. “Second, because the Shiites are clearly going to win the civil war, so fostering civil war brings about the conditions they want.”

    Exactly, chaos and a fatally weakened Iraq. Now you are starting to get it. The last thing they want is a strong Iraq. Further, even if you are right, what is there to negotiate about? If Iran wants a shia dominated allied Iraq, how is giving them that in the U.S. interest? Again, what is there to talk about? What can the U.S. possibly offer Iran that would satisfy it and still act in their own interest? I don’t see how helping Iran build an allied government in Iraq is in the U.S. interests.

  31. “They’re not looking for money. They’re looking for us to renounce our implied intention to wage full-scale war against their country, overthrow their government, and occupy it with our soldiers.”

    But according to you Joe, they are using that threat to keep their people in line. If that were true, wouldn’t that be the last thing that the IRanians want? Doesn’t that mean that it is in the IRanian’s interest to keep the conflict with the U.S. going? Again, what possible motivation does Iran have for negotiating in good faith?

  32. Weigel can’t nest quote marks properly. Therefore we must FIGHT AND WIN the war in Iraq!

    Whatever it’s about.

  33. “Further, U.S. or not, the IRanian regime is still wildly unpopular in Iran.”

    And our continuing war in Iraq is only suppressing that opposition. The mullahs are unpopular, but we’re a hell of a lot more unpopular. We make that government look good, by comparison, to its people. We should stop that.

    Before this war, there were massive protests by Iranians against their government. The regime was so afraid for its position that they arrested and jailed some of their own intelligence agents for killing protestors, in order to placate them.

    Then we started this war, and that all went away. The Iranian government is far more secure in its position now than it was before the war.

  34. “Then we started this war, and that all went away. The Iranian government is far more secure in its position now than it was before the war.”

    That is just not true Joe. Run a google search for Iranian dissent and you will see what I am talking about. There has been an enormous amount of dissent against he regime in the last four years. The regime, as it becomes more and more confident that the UN Security Council will never authorize meaningful sanctions has gotten more and more brazen about suppressing it.

  35. John, I absolutely MUST ask you to elaborate on this point from your 4:24 pm post:

    The Iranian rulers are interested in one thing; staying in power.

    So, hypothetically, if somebody were to argue that they are unlikely to cross certain lines for fear of massive retaliation, would you agree? Or would you argue that they are in the grips of a fanatical ideology that will lead them to disregard their own self-interest?

    Just curious.

  36. In other words, John, do you believe that deterrence can work with Iran?

  37. I’m not “getting” your argument, you fool, I’m refuting it. You can’t even tell the difference!

    What the Iranians fear most is an American Iraq. They’re fostering chaos there to drive us out. Once we’re gone, their interest becomes a friendly (re: Shiite) Iraq, stable and strong under an ally’s leaership.

    “If Iran wants a shia dominated allied Iraq, how is giving them that in the U.S. interest?” I’ve been asking you that question since this war began, and you still haven’t come up with an answer. It isn’t in our interest to allow the majority shia, who are Iranian allies, to take over Iraq. This whole thing worked against our interests. Our interests are screwed because of your war; I’m just tying to salvage what we can.

    “But according to you Joe, they are using that threat to keep their people in line. If that were true, wouldn’t that be the last thing that the IRanians want?” No, the LAST thing they want is for us to wage a war against them. The second-to-last thing they want is for us to be planted securely on their border, able to launch that war whenever we feel like it.

    “Doesn’t that mean that it is in the IRanian’s interest to keep the conflict with the U.S. going?” Of all of the things the mullahs have to worry about, coming up with anti-US cause celebres is pretty far down on the list. “The conflict with the US” isn’t going anywhere.

  38. “No, the LAST thing they want is for us to wage a war against them. The second-to-last thing they want is for us to be planted securely on their border, able to launch that war whenever we feel like it.”

    These, by the way, give us a great deal of “hand” in our negotiations with them. What we, the People (not you, John) want to do anyway – get the hell out of Iraq – is something we can offer them in negotiations.

  39. He could be president, but to do that, he’ll need to make nice to “the New York Money People”

  40. Joe,

    In genuine curiousity, why would Iran and Syria care about an offer by us to leave Iraq when that’s what they stirring up violence to effect? In other words, if we offer that to them, why wouldn’t they just respond with A) “Hey, it’s working!” and B) “Fine, now get out, then we’ll revisit the situation”? And anyway, if that’s what’s motivating them, out getting out unilaterally would accomplish more than offering to do so, no?

    The only other thing you’ve suggested that we can offer is a vow not to attack them. Why would they believe mere words?

    Also, bringing up the problems caused by this war does not tell us how to negotiate an end to Iran and Syria’s participation in it. What’s done is done, unfortunate as that may be.

  41. BTW, John, I’m bookmarking your comment in this thread. The next time we talk about Iran, if you say that they cannot be deterred, I’ll be sure to bring up what you wrote in this thread.

  42. Fyodor, what you don’t understand is that merely allowing Iran and Syria to push us out of Iraq isn’t enough. No, no, we must pay for the privilege.

    Before we leave, we must first give Syria a free hand in Lebanon, and give Iran a clear path to nuclear weapons. Because if we don’t, um, I’m not sure what, but it will be bad to leave without engaging in diplomacy first! Get it?

  43. Timing is everything.
    If, before midnight of 9-11-01, Bush had nestled a nuke in a rocket upside Baghdad–nothing more, nothing less–it would have been understood by the whole world, and might have done some good for peace, though it makes me shudder to speculate so. (I’ve made this comment here before.)

    After 9-11-01, it was too late. Everything from our Commander-in-Chief has been too late.

  44. You know, John, it occurs to me that you misunderstand where I’m coming from.

    I’m not happy about the prospect of negotiating with those two evil regimes. If I had my druthers, we’d be giving them hell, seizing their assets, and channeling funds to their opposition groups, while churning out anti-regime propaganda and air dropping it into their villages.

    But because of people like you and the idiotic, failed war you’ve imposed on us, we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to go to them as partners, in order to avoid complete disaster.

    So, next time you see an American political figure in a photo op with Bashir Assad, remember that you have no one to blame but yourself and those like you.

    Good job. Mission Accomplished. Pass the shrimp cocktail.

  45. fyodor,

    Syria and Iran may have an interest in cooperating with us because there is much we can do, if we feel like it, to keep the fallout from the Iraq Debacle from harming their interests. For example, they agree to sit on the jihadists destablizing Iraq, and in exchange, we agree to get the Kurdish government to sit on the PKK and other groups working to destablize their regimes.

    Nobody seriously thinks that “Get out” means that we will have no political or military power to utilize in the region.

    RC, your incapacity to process information on this level isn’t made any less obvious by your strawman sneering. It’s ok, we’ve all got weakness. I’m no good at darts; you’re no good at politics.

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