Search results for the tag, "Iraq War"

August 15th, 2007

Withdrawal Is Not an Option

Withdrawing troops from Iraq

Many of us are frustrated with the war in Iraq. No one doubts that serious mistakes have been made, and everyone is anxious for a panacea.

The problem is, instant gratification is not a strategy. Instant gratification, while emotionally pleasing, will only require our future return to mop up the metastasized mess.

First, consider the calls to cut our losses and redeploy. Presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, wants to “bring all the troops home … in six months, with no residual forces.”

But as Richardson’s colleague, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, retorts, “It’s time to start to tell the truth” about such withdrawal. “If we started today, it would take one year—one year—to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq.” Indeed, 19 years ago, it took the Soviets nine months to extract 120,000 men from Afghanistan, and they were simply going next door.

Slowing things down further is the staggering amount of stuff we would need to take with us—or destroy or sell if we couldn’t, lest it fall into the wrong hands. According to Time magazine, the U.S. currently has 45,000 ground-combat vehicles in Iraq, spread out across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. Equally daunting, equipment re-entering the United States must be inspected for any microscopic diseases.

Moreover, the price of pulling out prematurely is gigantic and grave. In the north, Kurds and Arabs would do battle for oil wells, as Kurdistan drifted toward independence, instigating skirmishes with, and possibly an invasion by, Turkey. In the south, an emboldened Iran would stop pussyfooting and uncork its influence, establishing a theocratic Shiite foothold, with neighborhoods controlled by militias like the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The middle of the country would erupt in a bloodbath.

Those who contend that Iraq cannot get much worse than it is now would do well to remember that this was the same refrain about Lebanon before civil war enveloped that country and about Somalia before the U.S. rushed out in 1993. In short, the only thing standing between the shaky stability of present-day Iraq and an ethno-sectarian inferno scorching the Persian Gulf is the United States armed forces.

We should also honor our humanitarian obligation to leave Iraq more stable and more secure than we found it. To paraphrase Colin Powell, We broke it, so we own it; now we must fix it.

Finally, retreating without a decisive victory would perpetuate our enemies’ perception of us as a paper tiger. Early evacuation might also trigger an arms race among our friends and allies, who would no longer trust the weak-kneed U.S. to defend them, and it would surely endanger our diplomats around the world, who would become tempting targets for every would-be, tin-pot terrorist who questioned American resolve.

So, where do we go from here? Iraq today is at a crossroads. Prudence dictates that we stay the course until at least September 15, when Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will deliver a report detailing our progress, or lack thereof.

In the meantime, preventing the country—and thus the Gulf, and thus the world—from slipping beyond repair will take patience and cause pain. But whatever our instincts may demand, a brighter future for the Iraqi people and vindication that American lives have not been lost in vain is still very much possible.

June 29th, 2007

“Defeatist” Smear Is Indefensible

An hour ago, blogger N.Z. Bear e-mailed his Rightblogs ListServ to decry “defeatist rhetoric” about Iraq. Here’s what he wrote (reprinted with permission):

We must use whatever power we have to ensure that our wobbly political class doesn’t rob the troops in the field of the chance to win. That doesn’t mean blind obedience to the administration’s position, but it does mean combating the defeatist rhetoric that is now beginning to come from even Republican corners.

I asked N.Z. if by “defeatist rhetoric” he means that there are no honest arguments for any form of withdrawal? He responded as follows:

Not at all. But when people say thin[g]s (a la Harry Reid) like “the war is lost,” I’d call that defeatist. And I’d call [Senator] Lugar’s recent call for withdrawal because he thinks the surge isn’t working—after mere weeks—defeatist as well.

I’m open to being convinced that we’ve lost the war and have been defeated. But I’ve yet to see any genuinely serious arguments to that end…

Without wading into the question of whether the U.S. has been “defeated” in Iraq (I prefer to ask if our presence there is worthwhile?), I strongly object to the word “defeatist,” because it implies that anyone who isn’t Cheney-esque about the war is actually hoping for an American defeat. People can reasonably disagree about our prospects for victory, but to impugn the motives of those with whom you disagree in this way is vicious and vacuous.

I’ll leave the last words to Senator Chuck Hagel:

I am not, nor any member of Congress that I’m aware of, Tim, is advocating defeat. That’s ridiculous, and I’m offended that any responsible member of Congress or anyone else would even suggest such a thing.

Addendum: N.Z. responds:

My quick response, for the record, is that “defeatist rhetoric” doesn’t necessarily mean the speaker wishes for defeat—it means that the rhetoric itself makes it more likely that we will be defeated (by encouraging our enemy / discouraging ourselves). I’m not interested in or trying to attack someone[‘]s motives or inner feelings—I’m interested in the results of their actions.

That of course doesn’t mean I never want to hear anything bad said about the war, but I expect that if someone like a U.S. Senator is going to say something bad, that it should be clearly based in fact and constructive. (Reid and Lugar’s comments both fail that test in my mind.)

This is an important distinction, but it leaves a couple questions:

1. What about Lugar’s critique is un-factual and unconstructive? Here’s what he said: “The president has the opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy. I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”

(Lugar added, “Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists.”)

2. What is the responsibility of a member of a Congress who strongly believes the war is lost? If he speaks out, then, according to N.Z., he hurts the troops. But if he holds his breath, he betrays his conscience and surrenders leadership. Note: now that we’re more than four years into the war, the usual answer—that he should express his disagreement in private—is obsolete.

July 10th, 2005

Frank Rich Is Angry—and Rightly So

Until Joe Wilson’s op-ed appeared on July 6, 2003, the White House had doggedly defended the president’s claim, in his 2003 State of the Union address, that Iraq “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Not even the announcement, five weeks later, by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency that this claim was based on fake documents prompted any retraction. Instead, only after Wilson went public did C.I.A. Director George Tenet, just days later, concede that the uranium reference “should never have been included in the text written for the president.”


The pettiness of this retribution [the leaking of the identity of Wilson’s wife] shows just how successfully Mr. Wilson hit the administration’s jugular: his revelation threatened the legitimacy of the war on which both the president’s reputation and reelection campaign had been staked. . . . That the Bush administration would risk breaking the law with an act as self-destructive to American interests as revealing a C.I.A. officer’s identity smacks of desperation.

Addendum (10/2/2005): The Post elaborates:

The campaign to discredit Wilson’s accusations came at a critical moment in the Bush presidency. It occurred a few months after the United States invaded Iraq and at a time when Bush, Cheney and the entire administration were under extraordinary pressure to back up their prewar allegations that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and was working on a nuclear weapons program. The Niger claim was central to the White House’s rationale for war, and Wilson was on a one-man crusade to disprove it. Early on, his actions caught the eye of the vice president’s office, which was often the emotional and intellectual force pushing the United States to war based on fears of potential weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Cheney and Libby were intimately involved in building the case for the war, which included warnings that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing nuclear weapons.

May 1st, 2005

The Prewar Evidence (or Lack Thereof): Saddam Hussein’s Collaboration with Terrorists and His Deterrability

Saddam Hussein

This isn’t a 404 error; the page you’re looking for isn’t missing. I just moved it—in fact, I created a microsite for it.

October 11th, 2004

Al Qaeda Never Was Iraq

Conventional wisdom holds that 9/11 “changed everything.” And so, in the second presidential debate last week, George Bush maintained that “it’s a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war on terror is only [limited to] Osama bin Laden.” Is it?

Nearly all agree that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, constituted a watershed, since never before had one day claimed the lives of more American civilians—and on U.S. soil, in our political capital, Washington, DC, and our spiritual capital, New York City—and in peacetime. As such, 9/11 exposed a festering wound, rousing Americans to the acute reality of what could happen if powerful weapons fall into the hands of those with no scruples about using them and no sympathy for those they slaughter.

Hawks argue that this unforeseen crucible gives every reason to assume worst-case scenarios—September 11, 2005, when terrorists let loose anthrax during rush hour at Grand Central Station; September 11, 2010, when terrorists detonate nuclear devices in Times Square, Harvard Square and Capitol Hill—these horrors are no less implausible than September 11, 2001, when terrorists synchronously hijacked four jetliners, full of fuel and innocents, and flew two of them into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. This new era thus rightly shifted the U.S. national security posture from preempting probabilities to preventing possibilities, and counsels casus belli on a lesser standard than imminence. Threats now need only to be “gathering” (Bush’s word) or “emerging” (Kenneth Pollack’s).

Yet rather than exploit our national tragedy to lump all threats together, strategic discrimination should supersede moral clarity. We must distinguish between Al Qaeda, a highly adaptable, decentralized, clandestine network of cells dispersed throughout the world, whose assets are now essentially mobile, and rogue states, which comprise institutions of overt, bordered governments with, as writer Matt Bai puts it, capitals to bomb, ambassadors to recall, and economies to sanction.

Whereas fanatical fundamentalists hate “infidels” more than they love their own lives, secular nationalists love their lives more than they hate us. Whereas suicide bombers are bent on martyrdom as a means to copulate with 72 virgins, Baathists focus on their fortunes here and now. Whereas Osama’s ilk is simply undeterrable, thus justifying the aforesaid shift, Saddam was always eminently deterrable, and failed to warrant such change.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson remains unconvinced. “While Western elites quibble over exact ties between the various terrorist ganglia, the global viewer turns on the television to see the same suicide bombing, the same infantile threats, the same hatred of the West, the same chants, the same Koranic promises of death to the unbeliever, and the same street demonstrations across the world.” Terrorists and tyrants with (or building) unconventional weapons are different faces of the same diabolical danger.

Alas, such views are all-too familiar, and evoke the alleged communist monolith of the Cold War. As Jeffrey Record observes in a 2003 monograph published by the U.S. Army War College, American policymakers in the 1950s held that a commie anywhere was a commie everywhere, and that all posed an equal threat to the U.S. Such conceptions, however, blinded us to key differences within the “bloc,” like character, aims and vulnerabilities. Ineluctably, the Vietcong—like the Baath today—became little more than an extension of Kremlin—or Qaeda—designs, thus leading Americans needlessly into our cataclysm in Southeast Asia, as in Iraq today.

Unpublished Notes

The Baathists are not fundamentalists . . . [T]hey are much more concerned with building opulent palaces on the bodies of those they murder. That’s why Osama Bin Laden thought Hussein to be a[n] infidel.”[9]

“History did not begin on September 11, 2001.”[10]

American responses to 9/11 echoe the fear of the McCarthy era

Surrounded by enemies, most of whom still seek its destruction, Israel has endured 9/11-like carnage regularly since 1948. Insulated by two vast oceans, the United States of America, history’s strongest superpower, can also wither it.

“As evil as Mr. Hussein is, he is not the reason antiaircraft guns ring the capital, civil liberties are being compromised, a Department of Homeland Defense is being created and the Gettysburg Address again seems directly relevant to our lives.”[11]

“[N]ew threats . . . require new thinking.”[12]

The convention that war is just only as a response to actual aggression is outdated, conceived in an era of states and armies, not suicide bombers.[13]

While deterrence worked against the Soviets because as atheists, they valued this life above all, deterrence is vain against the fanatical fundamentalists of Al Qaeda, who see the here and now as a mere means to heaven.

9/11 shifted U.S. war policy from erring on the side of risk (as the world’s invincible superpower) to erring on the side of caution (as the world’s conspicuously vulnerable superpower).

[9] Chris Matthew Sciabarra, “Saddam, MAD, and More,”, December 18, 2003.

[10] Jim Henley, “The Best We Can Do,” Unqualified Offerings, March 2, 2003.

[11] Madeleine K. Albright, “Where Iraq Fits in the War on Terror,” New York Times, September 13, 2002.

[12] George W. Bush, Speech, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, June 1, 2002.

[13] Michael Ignatieff, “Lesser Evils,” New York Times Magazine, May 2, 2004.