Iraq

'Don't Do Stupid Stuff' Is Smart Foreign Policy Advice

It is a sound, even noble, foreign policy goal, one that can help us avoid further sacrifice of American blood and treasure.

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On February 28, 2003, a few weeks before launching the "shock and awe" aerial assault on Iraq, President George W. Bush outlined his vision for "Operation Iraqi Freedom." His administration had "set a goal," he told the crowd at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner: "We will not allow the triumph of hatred and violence in the affairs of men."

An ambitious enough goal, you'd think, but he didn't stop there: "A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region," Bush insisted, "it would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations" in the Middle East.

The United States paid a heavy price in pursuit of that dream: some 4,500 U.S. troops killed, tens of thousands more with traumatic brain injuries, hundreds of limb amputations, $1.7 trillion in direct budgetary costs so far and nearly half a trillion to come in veterans' care and disability. Yet today, with Sunni jihadists pushing towards Baghdad, Iraq looks less like a Middle Eastern "City on a Hill" than a sectarian thugocracy, rapidly degenerating into a dystopian hellscape.

Given that history, perhaps there's something to be said for President Obama's latest foreign policy maxim: "don't do stupid stuff." At the very least, you wouldn't think a "first, do no harm" approach to foreign policy would prove quite so controversial.

Yet "DDSS" has been greeted with contempt by the D.C. commentariat.

"How far we have come from the audacity of hope, yes we can" moans David Rothkopf, publisher of Foreign Policy magazine. "DDSS" just isn't an "elevating notion," he complains. (Neither, I suppose, is the Hippocratic Oath.) "A crude, meaningless phrase cannot substitute for statecraft," sniffs former Bush aide Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal.

"Crude," maybe; but "meaningless"? The concept of avoiding catastrophic error shouldn't be hard to grasp. Then again, Rove's the guy who once blustered that "we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality," so it's not surprising he finds it counterintuitive.

David Brooks, who once condemned Iraq War opponents for being "tolerant of tyranny," and too skeptical of America's "ability to serve as a force for good in the world," takes a different tack. In his latest New York Times column, he accuses Obama of violating his own maxim. Brooks cites the Iraq reporting of The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins as evidence that "sometimes withdrawal is the stupidest thing of all."

But it's hard to see Filkins' account as a particularly compelling case against withdrawal. He faults Obama for "lack of engagement" in the negotiations over retaining a US military presence after 2011. "U.S. diplomats and commanders argue that they played a crucial role, acting as interlocutors among the factions—and curtailing [Iraqi PM Nouri al-] Maliki's sectarian tendencies," he writes.

But then what? Was there a viable plan through which US nation builders could forge unity among Iraq's fractious groups and push them toward enduring national reconciliation? Or were we just supposed to stay indefinitely?

Brooks admits that "we'll never know if all this effort and progress could have led to a self-sustaining, stable Iraq." How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for "curtailing Maliki's sectarian tendencies"?

It's true that Obama has never lived up to the cautious foreign policy maxim he's coined: launching a destructive "dumb war" in Libya, doubling down on Afghanistan with precious little to show for it.

But "DDSS" is a sound, even noble, foreign policy goal, one that can help us avoid further sacrifice of American blood and treasure—even as we try to extricate ourselves from past stupidities.

This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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  1. It is a meaningless platitude. You really have to have a shallow mind to find that in anyway interesting or valuable.

    1. Perhaps not interesting, but valuable, certainly.

      Imagine if DDSS were applied to healthcare, the economy, or govt spending. Heck, the govt would quickly be out of business*!

      *Due to Hanlon’s razor

    2. Too bad DDSS was not SOP 2001-09.

    3. I agree, John. As far as Obama is concerned (and Rove and Cheney and Hillary) they just don’t do “stupid stuff.” To say they did is only Monday morning quarterbacking viewed through rightwing teabagger eyes or leftwing proggie eyes.

    4. I have to disagree. It’s a poor formulation, certainly. But, if it means anything approximating what Healy suggests, it’s sound advice. A policy of making no moves with significat downsides and few exit options, regardless of upsides, would probably be a pretty solid policy. The rub lies in whether Mr. Obama’s understanding of “stupid stuff” approximates Mr. Healy’s.

    5. Says the resident neocon libertarian. You really, really belong to a diminishing demographic.

  2. Considering that Obama’s administration has done a ton of stupid shit, saying “don’t do stupid stuff” is both hilariously self-unaware and really fucking retarded. Plus it’s an idiotically simplistic platitude. How perfect for this president.

    1. It is being applied to foreign policy here by Healy, you moron. Think back before Obama – if you can.

      1. Palin’s Buttplug|6.17.14 @ 12:16PM|#
        …”Think back before Obama – if you can.”

        Yes, dipshit, almost as stupid.

      2. curiously, Healy advocates not doing stupid stuff now based on the consequences of stupid stuff having been done before. If you got Obama’s cock out of your mouth for second, this would not be difficult to understand.

  3. Asking a soulless narcissistic megalomaniac to refrain from doing stupid stuff is a fool’s errand.

    1. Bingo. And I agree with the notion that Obama is a narcissist; I’ve thought that since his first term in office. He simply does not care about others, only himself and he can never be wrong about anything.

      1. I actually think he is a psychopath. Valerie Jarrett says he is constantly bored. First, how in the world can you be bored and be the President of the USA? And, she says he has trouble focusing long enough to get anything done.

        Psychopaths are often chronically bored. They feel nothing, and use tension as a replacement for emotion. They often show great early promise, but end up accomplishing little. And, they lose focus easily.

        We know he kills people without batting an eye. And, we know he makes major decisions affecting the entire country on how it affects him personally.

        I’m pretty sure he is a clinical psychopath.

  4. “We will not allow the triumph of hatred and violence in the affairs of men.”

    Who wants cake?

    1. They all want cake.

  5. You say you’re not going to do dumb stuff and before you know it, you’re putting troops into Iraq.

    1. Now, now, they’re just going to “guard” the embassy and such. It’s not like they’re going to actually be sent into fight. That’s why ISIS will come to them, those poor bastards. Hopefully they have quite a few fully fueled Blackhawks on standby for the inevitable escape from the embassy in Baghdad.

      1. Gotta guard those 5,000 “diplomats”

        1. Obviously, if ISIS takes Baghdad they will want to take the Green Zone, too.

          Then what? A firefight to the last man standing? Or, does Obama send in reinforcements?

  6. before you know it, you’re putting troops into Iraq.

    But now, by definition, it’s not dumb, it’s NECESSARY. Because He has vowed not to do dumb stuff.

    See how this works?

  7. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!!!!!!!!!!!

      1. No fair cause he beat you to the punch?

  8. “A crude, meaningless phrase cannot substitute for statecraft,” sniffs former Bush aide Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal.

    “Crude,” maybe; but “meaningless”? The concept of avoiding catastrophic error shouldn’t be hard to grasp.

    Me, watching every horror movie ever: “Don’t go in there, Stupid.”

  9. But then what? Was there a viable plan through which US nation builders could forge unity among Iraq’s fractious groups and push them toward enduring national reconciliation?

    The Magic of Democracy was supposed to heal social divisions and ethnic tensions while also crafting a New Iraqi Man that would avoid the strongman approach to governance that has been the norm there since before Hammurabi. Sadly Rumsfeld forgot a few of the material components and the Wish spell is 9th level which was beyond his casting power anyway. Attempts to use the Rod of Hellfire and the Endless Sack of Dollars in place of the previous strategy also failed, though not for lack of trying. However, President Obama is droning a new incantation as we speak, so just take a few minutes to feed your unicorn some high fiber, we’re gonna need those farts.

    1. “Sadly Rumsfeld forgot a few of the material components and the Wish spell is 9th level which was beyond his casting power anyway. Attempts to use the Rod of Hellfire and the Endless Sack of Dollars….”

      I suppose that’s what you get when you try to work powerful magic with the components you have, instead of the components you might want, or wish to have at a later time.

  10. “We will not allow the triumph of hatred and violence in the affairs of men.”

    Right up there in the bullshit competition with:
    “Freedom from want!”

    1. “Freedom from want!”

      I was just thinking the other day about how much of a fucking propagandist hack Norman Rockwell was.

      1. I know it. Especially the ones where cops are being nice to kids. A more accurate painting would have shown a kid crying over his dead dog while a smiling cop looks on.

        1. You might have hit upon a good idea there. Get out your paint set. I’ll buy one.

        2. OK, who here is a legit artist who.can copy the Rockwell style. I’ll commission at least one work.

  11. Brooks admits that “we’ll never know if all this effort and progress could have led to a self-sustaining, stable Iraq.”

    Maybe YOU will never know, David.

  12. But then what? Was there a viable plan through which US nation builders could forge unity among Iraq’s fractious groups and push them toward enduring national reconciliation? Or were we just supposed to stay indefinitely?

    I thought the plan was to turn Iraq over to Iran? Couldn’t give it to the Kurds without pissing off the Turks, and with Sunnis gone, that’s the only faction left. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shia death squads to the US Embassy rescue! They owe us an embassy for 1979 anyway.

  13. Don’t do stupid stuff. Gee, I wish I’d thought of that.

    1. Something can be smart and stupid at the same time, too. There’s at least an argument that the U.S. had to meddle in Iran to stop the Soviets. So, at the time, maybe a smart move for Cold War purposes. Not so smart when it came to Iran’s future relationship with the U.S. and the west.

      1. Well, that’s how you sucked in even further. Support Iran against the soviets (who we supported against fascist Germany), then support Iraq against Iran, then tear down Iraq. Support Japanese against parochial Chinese, then support communistic Vietnamese against fascistic Japanese, then re-support Japanese against China, and round and round you go.

        There’s a reason the guys from 200+ years ago told us to stay out of foreign intrigues. But we didn’t. From 1913 on we’ve put the nations treasury behind a welfare/warfare state and we’re neck deep in foreign bullshit. Tribal resentments that go back millennia are now our problems.

        There are those who ponder how the world would be if the USG had not so easily led the country into WWI. Perhaps no overthrow in Russia as we know it. More than likely no crucible that hoisted fascism into power in several European countries. Once the USG could finance whatever adventure it please, post 1913, we’ve been in a cauldron of cross-purpose chaos. The good news is it can’t last forever.

  14. Since we are no longer a republic but an empire instead, it is very hard to quit feeding the beast that is empire, foreign intervention is an addiction that each president cannot resist,
    I guess we need to collapse like Rome.

  15. I think people wouldn’t mock Obama for saying ‘Don’t do stupid shit’ if he stopped doing so much stupid shit.

    1. Show me a politician that doesn’t do stupid shit

  16. Please to remember we’re talking about the federal government…if you look up “stupid” in the dictionary you find their picture.

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