Winds of Change.NET: Liberty. Discovery. Humanity. Victory.

Formal Affiliations
  • Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto
  • Euston Democratic Progressive Manifesto
  • Real Democracy for Iran!
  • Support Denamrk
  • Million Voices for Darfur
  • milblogs
Syndication
 Subscribe in a reader

Flashman and Iraq

| 53 Comments

Eric Red has a post up on the Saddam admissions - the ones where he explained that he was 'bluffing' about WMD for regional reasons. In it, one of his commenters pokes at my suggestion that the bluff made Saddam culpable for the invasion.

Other folks, (Democracy Arsenal) also make the point that much of the sturm und drang that we are so geopolitically sensitive to is in fact inter-regional - i.e. the sabers being rattled are not necessarily aimed at us.

Eric follows up with a post suggesting prudence in our stance wrt Iran based on this.

My response in comments at Eric's site was:

Short version: by the time Saddam started complying the invasion had an institutional logic - we weren't going to invade in summer, fall or winter, nor leave 200K troops sitting in Kuwait for the summer. The meta problem is that 'seeming' to have a gun will readily get you shot. Having said that, I've called the invasion a 'strategic failure'; and believe it is, even in the face of the apparent tactical success flowing from the surge.

Let me try and unpack this a little and talk about three things: The rickety and unpredictable nature of large-scale human action; the humility planers and actors need to have in the face of that ricketyness; and the interaction between inter- and intra-regional issues - in a kind of homely metaphor.

First of all, let me reiterate a point I think I've made over and over again, but which I obviously haven't made well enough, about the nature of large-scale human action.

As someone who has on occasion led large groups of people - I mean like twenty or thirty people - I have profound respect for the limitations of organizational precision. What Clausewitz called 'friction' is apparent in all human affairs - none so much as war - and it is important in discussing any large-scale human activity - whether business, politics, bureaucracy, or warfare to keep in mind that the world looks a lot more like George McDonald Frasier than like Tom Clancy. In fact, I would strongly recommend the Flashman books, not just as a good set of reads, but as a good window into how I think real human affairs really transpire.

Boorish, selfish, limited people with incomplete information, bad communication, and half-blind views of the world - when they are sober - collide. They follow leaders who are noble and visionary primarily in retrospect.

It's interesting that I picked up two other relevant books while I was in France - 'The Black Swan' by Taleb which was my read on the flight out, and 'On The Psychology of Military Incompetence' by Dixon which I picked up used at Shakespeare & Co in Paris.

I'd strongly suggest reading both of these.

The reason is that actors on a large scale - at a national scale - have to take this slop into account. Which is why brinksmanship is so fraught with risk - and why I don't think it's a good idea when it comes to Iran.

Think of it as the "World War I" model; we've got these armies, and we'll posture with them, secure in the notion that we have absolute control. Except, of course, that we don't.

And when we're signaling 'threat' the problem is a fractal one; the risk and uncertainty applies at a small scale as surely as at a large one. I talked about it at length here:

...not to try and parse the blame for whatever faulty intelligence there may have been between Republicans and Democrats; I say it because reasonable, smart, well-informed people other than those in the Bush Administration believed that Saddam had WMD, and was willing to use them.

And so to look at the decision made to invade, we have to look not in the light of the perfect information of hindsight, but in the context of the imperfect information available - to the question of whether it was a toy gun or a real Desert Eagle.

There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about the quality of our intelligence about Iraq - from before the first Gulf War until today. There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about whether an invasion was the appropriate response to the risk of WMD.

But those aren't the questions we're asking.

And before we do, let's step further into the reality of the pre-invasion world, and move away from an Anthony Dwain Lee innocently holding a prop, standing at a party, and to Alan Newsome:

Alan Newsome never thought his BB gun would kill anyone. When he brandished it in the hallway of his Harlem apartment building, it was just something to help scare some cash out of a burger joint deliveryman. But the deliveryman turned out to be a cop, and when Newsome pulled the fake gun, the cop's partner shot the 17-year-old three times in the chest, killing him.

The threat posed by Newsome - brandishing a realistic looking pellet gun - was one that any reasonable person would have responded to with deadly force.

Saddam may have thought he had WMD because his staff lied to him. He may have thought he could use the empty threat to bluff.

But the fact of his behavior moves him from the Lee category to that of Newsome.

The risk one takes when you walk down the street brandishing a fake gun is that a very real policeman will come by and decide it's real - and you'll get shot.

Now it's critical that we understand the regional context of what actors in the Middle East are doing; and I'll suggest that we continue to do a crappy job of that. But it's something where the moral weight isn't all on one side.

This is something that progressives - because they tend to see the world through the prism of American power and imperium - tend to do; they tend to place all the moral weight on our side of the equation. This isn't some neocon fantasy - Danny Postel talks about it in 'Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran'.

Sorry, but that doesn't hold water. The leaders in the Middle East - Saddam, Ahmadinejad, and others - may have as their prime focus regional dominance (actually their prime focus is staying in power in their own fiefdoms), and I genuinely believe that the root of their anti-American babble is posturing to their local audience - but the problem they have is the same one - having whipped their armies into a rage - the institutional inertia becomes difficult to control.

And therein lies the rub. Because even if we accept the most benign interpretation - that the 'death to America' chants are bravado, posturing designed to keep a political leadership's grasp on power, the problem is that the movements they launch, incite, and support may not be any easier to control than the alliances and armies in Central Europe were in 1914.

So yes, institutional inertia on the part of American armies was a large part of why we went to war in 2003. But it wasn't the only part.

I've suggested that there were legitimate reasons to depose Saddam - both as a way of trying to change the behavior of the more intractable states, and as a way of liberating his own people.

Yes, sanctions were working - and ironically, I'll bet a lot that many of the people who wag fingers and tell us that sanctions were doing just fine are the same people who in 2001 accused sanctions of killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children and argued for lifting them (a fun research project, if anyone's got the time). And, without question, we can say that sanctions were collapsing.

Jeff Weintraub summed up the contradictions well back in 2002:

Thanks for sending me yet another petition opposing war in Iraq. As my last message should have made clear, I can't sign it in good conscience ... though I do agree very much with SOME of the points in the statement (and I disagree with others).

Some key points in the statement happen to be mutually contradictory. For example, one reason offered against war is that the sanctions imposed on Iraq are killing Iraqi children, and constitute a major human-rights violation. On the other hand, another point suggests that military action is unnecessary because "the policy of containment [is] working well." One characteristic passage reads:

"In briefings calculated to query the administration's persistent sabre rattling towards Iraq, unnamed officers told the Washington Post that the policy of containment was working well and that the alternative, a military assault, was too riddled with risk to be worth pursuing."

Perhaps, but this contradicts the previous point. Sanctions against Iraq are a crucial part of the "policy of containment." If the sanctions are criminal, then how can the policy be "working well"? And if the sanctions are removed, the "policy of containment" will collapse. You can't have it both ways.

No, you can't.

53 Comments

Pakistan has nukes. Iran may have them at any time. Other nations including Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Yemen, and Sudan are pursuing nuclear weapons through "civilian" programs.

Already when the Pope says Islam is violent, a Danish Newspaper publishes cartoons, an obscure Dutch film-maker makes a film, a Swedish Artist draws something, Muslims rage and people die. Add nuclear weapons and cities die. Because none of the above "nations" qualifies as a nation, but rather a rabble of poorly aggregated tribes.

Tribes permanently enraged over Western trivialities like cartoons or Piglet or the Three Little Pigs plus nuclear weapons equals a Western City or Cities die.

And that means sooner or later the 1 billion Muslims are reduced in number.

There is no way for Western society to control what will possibly give offense to Islam and Muslims other than total Saudi-style Sharia. Someone somewhere will name a Teddy Bear Mohammed, or make a cartoon, or someone will just invent a story about a Koran flushed down a toilet. And nukes will be given to someone's cousin, somewhere, to find it's address in Copenhagen. Or NYC.

Because there is no way for Muslims to control their tribal, fractured, kin-oriented societies. This isn't the Soviet Union, top-down and centrally organized with a ruthless Secret Police to enforce political discipline. But tribal kin networks based on "honor" and "rage" etc. We are already at August 1914 we just don't know who Gavrilo Princep or Franz Ferdinand will be.

Jim, there's a 100% chance of a war that decimates (if they are lucky) the Arab world if we buy your worldview. I don't think we're there, although there's an obvious risk of it, and I'm willing to risk the one bite the dog will get in order to see if we can avoid it.

That's where we differ. I think we should prepare for war and try for peace.

We're past the point where posturing or small wars - like Iraq - will stave off the destruction you forsee. The wave is coming, and we need to hope for leadership that will enable us to ride it into shore.

Or we can accept failure and just start killing.

Andrew Olmstead risked - and lost - his life to try and save his enemys'. That's who we are, and we can and must do no different.

A.L.

AL-

Short answer to your post: no, life is not a Flashman book. Life is often unforeseeably complex, full of unknown variables and unexpected consequences, but recognizing it as such does not excuse either past or present incompetence on the grounds that "hey, you never know what will happen!"

Likewise, the fact that many leaders in the Middle East are bad guys doing bad things and bear moral responsibility for those things doesn't excuse us from acting in anything other than peak competence. If you're gonna drag up the fictional universe of Flashman, I'll bring up The Wire and point at Sgt. Ellis Carver's recent epiphany that "It all matters." The actions of criminals are what they are - that doesn't change how important it is that the good guys do what they can do to the best of their ability, or somehow soften the impact of their mistakes.

Now, that being said, I still, as ever, question what it is you're really trying to do here. What's the point of this kind of rear-guard action? Do you think, at this stage in the game, that you'll ever convince anyone on the left that the Bush admin's actions were somehow pardonable human fallibility? Eric Martin and company can speak for themselves, of course, but I'm highly skeptical of such a thing happening.

And for all your statements over the years that you were somehow trying to reform the Democratic party, we're now in a situation where even significant chunks of the Republican party are ready to reject the Iraq war. Far from changing the mind of folks like Kevin Drum, you're reduced to arguing with guys like Jim Rockford that outright genocide is not the answer.

Seriously ponder that last sentence a bit, AL. It's time to stop fighting for a lost cause.

One thing that might just avoid the necessity for the West to Drop the Hammer on Islam, and might just make the point that we can and if pushed will do just that, is to hold a conference with interested parties - the President of Iran and the King of Saudi Arabia among them; and as part of that, to conduct a tour of important historical sites.

Where? Hiroshima.

Says Chris, re AL:

It's time to stop fighting for a lost cause.

Meaning, even if he holds a belief, he should hold his tongue because you think he can't persuade who you think he's trying to persuade?

(Independent of whatever he is saying, and whomever he is trying to persuade, that is... I'm not going to address your reading of his intent because that's his business with you, not mine)

Interesting attitude. Interesting exhortation that he "seriously ponder" his error -- but perhaps your desire that he do so is also a lost cause. Perhaps you mistake your understanding for reality (as distinct from some sort of popularity matter).

Try seriously pondering that.

You sound a bit like the way the inquisitors used to talk to Giordano Bruno.

If you're tired of reading him, you know where the door is. shrug

On the point of life not being a Flashman book... Since Chris quotes TV, how about House's precept: "Everybody lies". In this context, that means that historians lie, politicians lie... everybody only has a sort of half-handle on the truth.

Perhaps this is because a lie that works doesn't get selected against by evolutionary (environmental) pressure. Conceivably if we had evolved in some place where lying got you killed by reality, nice and quickly, we survivors wouldn't even know how to misrepresent reality. Instead, it seems we got selected for being really good liars to one another and indifferent liars (storytellers) to ourselves.

There is a significant amount of research to support the operating hypothesis that people lie to themselves -- a lot. Most fundamentally, when you ask someone why they did something, there's a good chance they will just make something up. Without necessarily knowing they are doing so. Conclusions get jumped to continually. Because you can't go and verify everything? Partly.

History books on any given period don't describe most of what happened, because they can't; and they probably only very occasionally "correctly" describe why.

I do not dispute that the good guys should try to be better at doing right and telling the truth. Criticism is the only known remedy for error.

I do dispute that any history written today about the events of the last twenty years (or even the last eight) has high likelihood of being accurate.

No matter what Chris thinks the zeitgeist is saying.

Why was Saddam afraid of Iran? Iran wasn't going to try and invade Iraq again. When it came to foreign policy, Saddam could be pretty dumb. On the other hand he was pretty skilled at keeping Iraq under his rule. He made governing the country look easier than it really was, which may have misled the neocons into thinking the occupation would be straight forward.

"the problem is that the movements they launch, incite, and support may not be any easier to control than the alliances and armies in Central Europe were in 1914."--A.L.

I disagree. In the Iranian context, they represent the political consequences of the Pahlavi dictatorship and the Iran-Iraq War, which were both imposed upon Iran by direct US involvement. They are not rigid diplomatic mechanisms for war as seen during 1914 Europe. For the analogy to be correct, the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon would have Iran invading Iraq, Syria invading Lebanon, Egypt invading Israel. This is unrealistic. Wouldn't you agree?

Iran is not going to invade any of its neighbors. Why would it? Thanks to US invasions, it now has political, social and economic access to Iraq and Afghanistan, with rapid expansion very much in evidence. In this way, Iran represents a challenge for regional influence. And this is one of the real reasons behind the rhetoric being exchanged between Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran.

He made governing the country look easier than it really was

That's a truly troubling contributing factor, along with Chalabi's evident smoke and mirror act, and the desire to follow through in a sort of MacArthuresque "We Have Returned" way for the few remnants of the Iraqi resistance fighters of '91. I suspect all were significant aspects. I don't think there's a neat single narrative there.

The assumption of homogeneity and expectation of a smooth post-"Mission Accomplished" timeline might also be blamed partly on the desire to not appear (to selves and others) bigoted or patronizing. You couldn't say "they're not ready for 'it'" ('it' being left as an exercise for the listener) without accusations of that sort.

"Ain't nothin' simple."

The USSR made its component Republics all look simple, too. Did you know that there are at least four regions claiming autonomy that were once in the Soviet Union none of which have recognition from any other country? Did you know that people died in all of those places fighting for that autonomy? No? Hmmm, wonder why it wasn't in the common narrative of recent history...

Chris -

No it's not an excuse (I use the phrase "it's amazing how often s**t happens to people who say 's**t happens!'"); but neither is judgment that compares actual events to idealized norms - as opposed to the messy reality of history - a meaningful criticism. We're clearly obligated to do our best; the problem is that that best, when managing or evaluating large-scale events needs to take the friction into account. And, to be blunt, I don't see the bulk of the critics of the war judging it against the reality of past wars, but against some fictional standard or against the political rhetoric with which this war - and all wars - are sold.

And to put it mildly, I think the critics of the war are morally bankrupt - which is why the level of post-facto hysteria over the war remains so high on the Left - because it hits square in the central flaw of the modern Left; the core value is anti-imperialism, anti-Enlightenment anti-Western and to abandon the Iraqi (or Arab, or African) people on the altar of that core belief is nothing less than shameful.

Have you read 'Reading Legitimation Crisis' or 'Intellectuals and the Flag'? Postrel and Gitlin have been dismissed as 'concern trolls' by people not fit to shine their computer monitors and who occupy the space you'd have me come and stand in.

I'll pass. Here I stand, as they say...

A.L.

The risk one takes when you walk down the street brandishing a fake gun is that a very real policeman will come by and decide it's real - and you'll get shot.

This toy gun model is a misleading and inaccurate representation of international politics and the contemporaneous events at the time leading up to the invasion in 2003. Since you raised this a couple of times at least recently, I would assume that you believe it holds some explicatory purpose. Of course, all models are imperfect, but when they're as imperfect as this one it is perhaps illuminating to look at precisely what is wrong.

Here are the modifications to the "model" that I think better represent the situation in Iraq.

1) The person is only claiming to have a gun (brandishing is too strong; Saddam had nothing to brandish). He is a murderer with a history of gun charges and, right or wrong, is perceived as a bit of a lunatic. Although in the past he worked closely with the police as an informant.

2) The policemen who confront him aren't sure if he has a gun or not. On the one hand, some of his colleagues who used to work with the guy are saying that he must, because of his past record. On the other hand, other officers and people who have a better view of the man, and who can scan him from afar for the presence of metal objects, say he does not.

3) The showdown is occurring in a densely populated area whose demographics are low income/minority.

4) The police chief, who has a personal history with the gunman (he tried to kill his partner), decides to take him out as a precaution.

5) The police then call in a strike with helicopter gunships and wipe out the whole block, perp and civvies alike.

6) A civil uprising ensues....you can fill in the rest....

Alan, an analogy is just that.... an analogy, not a model of reality.

Examining what went wrong in the past can provide valuable lessons for the future. That's one good reason to keep analyzing the events that led to this war.

"And, to be blunt, I don't see the bulk of the critics of the war judging it against the reality of past wars"--A.L.

I do. The analogy to the wars in VietNam and Algeria are sound. And criticism of the Iraq War shouldn't be strictly framed in the context of bipolar politics. There are both military and economic factors that qualify this criticism. In fact, specific political orientations are a detriment to forming an objective analysis on the matter.

Mark - Algeria? Did I miss the part where America had held Iraq as a colony - with a population of American expats ruling the country for a hundred years or so? The recurring need to look at Iraq through the prism of colonialism (or more accurately, anti-colonialism) is one of the profound weaknesses of the left and the antiwar movement. Get over it, there's virtually nothing there.

And while Vietnam is a better model, I'd think that the bloody history of postwar Vietnam would give even those who opposed the war itself some pause. Plus I do tend - even while despairing at the missed opportunities to have prevented the war in the late 1940's - to side with the revisionist historians about what the war was doing before we got bored and went home.

A.L.

Fabio, whether it is an analogy or a model, it is similarly inaccurate and misleading. And it's been used enough times by AL (here and on other blogs) to indicate that he believes it is valuable to his arguments to continue repeating it over and over.

Black Swan was a difficult book. Possibly brilliant, but infuriating. Taleb is a really interesting author, but he's not scholarly in the least and too many of his examples were anechdotal at best. But they also rang true often as not.

Quick recap- a Black Swan is an event that is pretty much unpredictable but is a total game changer. The term comes from long standing belief that all swans were white, pretty much by definition. The discovery of the black swan in Australia set all that on its head. Taleb applies this to human affairs- for instance the stock market (Taleb was a trader) where huge crashes are only obvious in retrospect (otherwise they wouldnt have happened).

I particularly chuckled at his comparison of day trading to collecting pennies in front of a steamroller. But in a lot of ways he is wrong- he describes successful business men as basically the extremely statistically lucky cream that survives, while other that simply werent lucky are never heard of again. Not much respect for the capitalist system there. And also missing the critical element of persistance in success- most of the hyper-successful went through complete melt-downs at some point in their lives and often had to start over from scratch. You could write a book (many have) coming to the opposite conclusion that simply the ability and will to get up after being knocked down virtually guarantees success. Taleb would have no part of that and it drove me nuts trying to get through his book.

The WMD fiasco couldnt be a better example of a black swan. One of the elements of black swanhood is how obvious it seems in retrospect. We have a real gift for self-deception, particularly about the past (the human memory of events is not to be trusted). Iraq was a classic black swan- you could count the number of serious international leaders who were arguing Saddam didnt have a WMD program... well you could try but I cant even get to 1 so im not sure it counts as counting. Yet in retrospect critics write a completely different story, because, hey, it just cant be possible that everyone was so drastically, game changingly, unbelievably wrong about virtually everything we all believed.

But we were, all of us.

NM-

Meaning, even if he holds a belief, he should hold his tongue because you think he can't persuade who you think he's trying to persuade?

Meaning that it should be clear from circumstances that, whatever his belief is, there's a point where it should be obvious that he's not going to achieve it. Me being the guy who's pointing it out doesn't change the underlying reality.

Interesting attitude. Interesting exhortation that he "seriously ponder" his error -- but perhaps your desire that he do so is also a lost cause. Perhaps you mistake your understanding for reality (as distinct from some sort of popularity matter). Try seriously pondering that.

Weak semantic games, NM. I act on the belief that my understanding pretty much is reality - everybody does. To do otherwise would leave us unable to act at all. Do I make allowances for the fact that my understanding could be wrong? Sure, which is why I constantly seek out sources that perform "acid tests" on my worldview. (WoC once did a decent job of being that acid test, but that was a long time ago...)

That said, check the frequency of my posts here over the last few months, NM - have I not been posting less and less? The extinction function is simply a curve, not a step, something that cuts both ways. Plot the number of liberal posters and trackbacks to this site, and tell me if you don't see a similar pattern...

I do dispute that any history written today about the events of the last twenty years (or even the last eight) has high likelihood of being accurate.

It's interesting to me how many conservatives have been reduced to playing PoMo games about the underlying nature of reality. Suggesting that the current understanding of the war is meaningless in and of itself - if it's a lie, then say why it's a lie. But since even AL freely admits it was a "strategic mistake", I think that argument, too, is something of a lost cause.

Alan, want to explain exactly why it's inaccurate? Without the scale-changing sleight of hand in your post above?

A.L.

Chris, I don't know that I feel so lonely - I've got a leading D candidate (Obama) who is at least philosophically in touch with my beliefs about the nature of domestic politics, and whose domestic policies I find largely appealing; I've got a leading R candidate (McCain) whose foreign policies are largely appealing to me and whose domestic policies don't make me sick. Compared to the Netroots crowd's wishes, I'd say US politics is orbiting pretty close to where I want it to be.

So while I and all the people like me might not be popular with the Kool Online Kidz, the folks who actually will get to make decisions appear to be hovering pretty close. And if I have to choose...

A.L.

Mark B - I agree that it isn't the best written book I've read, but the concepts are well-presented and strong. I think you're misreading him wrt capitalism, and that the factors you are valuing he would also value.

But that's for another post.

A.L.

AL-

And to put it mildly, I think the critics of the war are morally bankrupt - which is why the level of post-facto hysteria over the war remains so high on the Left - because it hits square in the central flaw of the modern Left; the core value is anti-imperialism, anti-Enlightenment anti-Western and to abandon the Iraqi (or Arab, or African) people on the altar of that core belief is nothing less than shameful.

Ok. So if the left is so terrible, do you still consider yourself as someone who's trying to "fix" the modern Democratic party? And, if not, what are you trying to do?

What am I trying to do? Well a lot of it seems to be being expressed in Obama and McCain's approach to politics (see above), and to (slowly) growing movement of progressives (the Euston folks, Postrel, Gitlin, Nieman) who are rejecting the simplistic West-Bad/Other-Good formulations that have come to dominate progressive discourse.

Have you read Postrel or Gitlin's books?

A.L.

Chris, I don't know that I feel so lonely - I've got a leading D candidate (Obama) who is at least philosophically in touch with my beliefs about the nature of domestic politics, and whose domestic policies I find largely appealing; I've got a leading R candidate (McCain) whose foreign policies are largely appealing to me and whose domestic policies don't make me sick. Compared to the Netroots crowd's wishes, I'd say US politics is orbiting pretty close to where I want it to be.

AL, this is pretty much completely irrational. You yourself have repeatedly criticized Obama's foreign policy. There's fundamentally no policy difference between where Obama is now and where Kerry was in 2004 (well, some difference - Obama never supported Iraq). And if you rejected Kerry in 2004, then Obama's no improvement.

And maybe McCain's domestic policies don't make you sick, but they're not even remotely something approaching liberal policies. Insofar as they don't make you sick, you're simply demonstrating that you're a moderate or a conservative - someone who, at the end of the day, has no strong preferences when it comes to domestic policies and who has very definite conservative tendencies when it comes to a hawkish foreign policy.

And that's not a bad thing - many people become more conservative as they get older. It does, however, render all your talk about reforming the Democratic party moot.

And, Chris, I've written that while I don't like Obama's foreign policies, there may be a second-intention advantage for hawks in having a Democrat in the White House - but that will be the crux decision for me to make in November.

McCain as a horrible, awful, conservative? Come on. Women's rights, immigration, abortion rights, the environment. Have you looked at his record? He's almost as pure a centrist as there is.

Which isn't what I want, but as noted - doesn't make me sick.

Nice backhand in the final sentence - the obvious riposte: many people hold stupid political positions when they are young and inexperienced and hold better ones as they gain more experience. My positions, amazingly have moved very little in the last 35 years - which does worry me more than a little.

A.L.

What am I trying to do? Well a lot of it seems to be being expressed in Obama and McCain's approach to politics (see above), and to (slowly) growing movement of progressives (the Euston folks, Postrel, Gitlin, Nieman) who are rejecting the simplistic West-Bad/Other-Good formulations that have come to dominate progressive discourse.

Except the Euston folks aren't growing, they're dying off. Check out both the pace of posting and the number of comments on their blog for evidence. And, for the most part, the only place the "simplistic West-Bad/Other-Good formulations" "dominate progressive discourse" is in your imagination - none of the leading Democrats are talking that way, and despite your distain for the "Kool Online Kidz" (another swipe at Yglesias, I'm guessing?) neither are they.

Have you read Postrel or Gitlin's books?

No. Nor, based on what I've seen online, does it look like there's much reason to.

A.L.
I was referring to the Algerian and Vietnamese models in military terms. An unpopular military occupation and a long, drawn out insurgency. To this, we could add the Soviet-Afghanistan War.

Any complete historical analysis must include Iraqi social perspectives on the matter. Taking into account critical US cooperation with Sadaam's regional war during the 1980's as well as the two US wars directed against Iraq, nearly a million Iraqis have perished.

Alan, want to explain exactly why it's inaccurate? Without the scale-changing sleight of hand in your post above?

Actually, my point is that you're the one "tipping the scales" by omitting important differences between your oversimplified analogy/model and the political brinkmanship that occurred between Saddam and Bush.

And even though I think my post already answers your question, here's another explanation:

1) The information that the police possess in your example about whether the suspect is "brandishing" a gun or not, and whether he is "brandishing" or "claiming", are not analogous.

2) The nature and magnitude of the response to this perceived threat (not to mention the cost, which I didn't bother to integrate into my scenario) differ drastically.

3) Given these modifications, the police chief would and should not be forgiven for ordering the destruction of a neighborhood.

Chris, it's interesting. I go out of my way to read things I'm pretty sure I'll disagree with - Said, for example - on the off chance I might learn something. Based on your "No. Nor, based on what I've seen online, does it look like there's much reason to." I'll assume you don't see the same opportunity.

Postrel's book is a critical one for anyone interested in opening dialogs and new directions in the Middle East; it's based in his contacts with Iranian intellectuals and questions why they are more interested in Rorty and Habermas than Said and Chomsky. But who cares what they think...

Overall, it's a shame that you feel that way.

A.L.

Alan, let's go through them:

1) No it's almost exactly analogous. Saddam's history of deception, his gaming of the inspection system until the 12th hour, the obvious conflicts of interest of the major opposition actors (France, Germany, and Russia) as well as the consensus pre-invasion position of everyone but Scott Ritter suggest that concerns about Saddam's WMD programs weren't solely the province of Perle et al. The question was whether - in the face of corroding sanctions and massive Oil for Food fraud, Saddam posed a threat of WMD proliferation. Just as the question is whether the bad guy walking down the street with his hand in his waistband is armed. He could have answered the question - as the bad guy in the analogy could have simply put his hands up - and chose not to.

2) In the scale of modern of wars, this one has been amazingly cheap in lives; we've paid for that in cash, but we have a lot of that and saving our troops and civilian lives are a good place to spend it. Iraq isn't a wasteland, and at the worst time in the wars, one of the points that people like me kept making was that it was a mistake to assume that it was like Normandy in 1941.

3) That's the 'scale changing' sleight of hand I was criticizing you for...

A.L.

Mark P - why not Indonesia? Or El Salvador? or the Phillipines? There are a variety of long-drawn out insurgencies, some are won some are lost - I don't buy the model that suggests that the insurgents automatically win. And I'll note that recent events in Iraq may not support it either.

A.L.

as well as the consensus pre-invasion position of everyone but Scott Ritter suggest that concerns about Saddam's WMD programs weren't solely the province of Perle et al.

And there's your sleight of hand...

McCain as a horrible, awful, conservative? Come on. Women's rights, immigration, abortion rights, the environment. Have you looked at his record? He's almost as pure a centrist as there is. Which isn't what I want, but as noted - doesn't make me sick.

AL, I have looked at his record - have you? His actual voting record on abortion rights is extremely poor from a pro-choice perspective, and in the '08 campaign he's walked back all his earlier statements about not wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade. His immigration and environmental records aren't bad for a conservative, but again, I don't know that he'd govern that way as a Republican president - certainly his change of heart on the wisdom of Bush's tax cuts suggests he's not above backing off of centrist positions for political gain.

And he's pretty vocal about wanting to privatize social security, and completely against anything approaching universal health care. I believe that he believes in a balanced budget, but I also believe that, given the chance, he'd cut out big chunks of the New Deal to achieve it, rather than raise taxes.

You've criticized the Democratic party in the past for not doing enough to help "a single mother in Los Angeles making $35,000/year or a working couple with kids making $50,000." What, exactly, do you see in McCain's voting record that suggests he'd do a damn thing to improve their situation?

Nice backhand in the final sentence - the obvious riposte: many people hold stupid political positions when they are young and inexperienced and hold better ones as they gain more experience.

Actually, I agree - I wasn't being backhanded with that remark. I know at least a few conservatives - young and old - who I respect, and recognize that while I may not agree with their positions, they came by them honestly and rationally.

However - and this is the key point - they don't identify themselves as anything other than a conservative, and they don't condescend to liberals by giving them advice "for their own good".

Alan, I'm happy to be shown contemporaneous cites that support your position - this blog (and others) is full of ones that support mine...

Chris, from my POV (and I tend to think I'm far from alone on this) we have two problems; a series of domestic challenges that have to be met to help my single mom and her kids as well as the rest of us, and a series of foreign challenges as well.

Personally, I'd obviously love to see a 'liberal hawk' candidate emerge who mirrored my views - I happen to think that candidate would do pretty well (in fact from a policy POV, Hillary is a close proxy and is doing pretty well). But I have to decide elections with the candidates I'm given, which may mean that I have to make a choice.

I'm honestly not sure what choice I'll make come November, but if it is between Obama and McCain, it'll be a fairly clear one (i.e. the choice will be clear, the decision isn't yet). Obama has a change to really change the Democratic Party in ways that I like - and note that Jerome and others have been dinging him relentlessly for it (They are in the Kool Kids category along with much of the netroots; Matt is just another young guy working his way up the media ladder).

This isn't the place to debate Democratic Party inside baseball, but I hope I've sketched out my point well enough for folks to understand.

And I genuinely hope you read Postrel...

A.L.

Chris, it's interesting. I go out of my way to read things I'm pretty sure I'll disagree with - Said, for example - on the off chance I might learn something. Based on your "No. Nor, based on what I've seen online, does it look like there's much reason to." I'll assume you don't see the same opportunity.

Overall, it's a shame that you feel that way.

Thanks, but save the condescension for somebody else - I said up thread that I specifically seek out opposing viewpoints to perform acid tests on my own world view. Just because I don't read specific books doesn't mean I'm not constantly challenging my own preconceptions.

Actually, Chris it does. The fact that you select the 'acid tests' means that you're free to select strawmen, or opponents you're comfortable with. When opponents point out things they think I should look at, I tend to look - it's better to let people who disagree with you select the things that are likely to change your mind.

A.L.

Last comment before I buckle down to work - I didn't support Kerry in 04 because a) he was a horrible choice domestically and internationally; b) he would have been a Top 10 Worst President Ever given his campaign; c) the situation in Iraq was quite different than it is now (in no small part, thanks to Bush). So because I rejected Kerry in 04 doesn't remotely mean I'd reject Obama in 08. Different ballpark, league, sport.

A.L.

bq Alan, I'm happy to be shown contemporaneous cites that support your position - this blog (and others) is full of ones that support mine...

Actually, in going back to read the statement that I responded to:

as well as the consensus pre-invasion position of everyone but Scott Ritter suggest that concerns about Saddam's WMD programs weren't solely the province of Perle et al.

I'm not sure what, exactly, your position is. Is it that people had "concerns" about Saddam's WMD program, or that everyone thought he definitively possessed them?

Chris, from my POV (and I tend to think I'm far from alone on this) we have two problems; a series of domestic challenges that have to be met to help my single mom and her kids as well as the rest of us, and a series of foreign challenges as well.

AL, two things: you say you think you're far from alone on this, but my entire point here is that you are pretty much alone on this. When challenged you've pointed to a bare handful of book authors and a "movement" that I've already demonstrated is petering out. At this point you frankly have to be dishonest or delusional to act like you're speaking for anyone other than yourself and a tiny group of "Lieberman Democrats" - a group that becomes less and less influential by the day.

And secondly, my whole point in #23 is that you've demonstrated that the "series of foreign challenges" is far more important to you than the domestic angle of the single mom and her kids. You can call yourself and others whatever you want - you're still a liberal, McCain's a centrist, Clinton's a liberal hawk (bet that last one goes over well here at WoC) - but none of those labels hold up when you examine actual policies and actions. Until you do, you're basically playing a kind of fantasy baseball, where political losses and victories can mean almost anything, depending on what arbitrary team you've assigned the players to at any given moment.

Chris, if I was alone, Edwards would be the dominant candidate for the Democrats, and Lamont the sitting Senator from CT.

Don't confuse 'popular in the media' - especially 'popular in the Internet' with 'popular in real life'.

Back to work.

A.L.

It's interesting to me how many conservatives...

Odd. Imputing "conservatism" to me looks like a noise macro your computer somehow injected into your text stream; maybe you should fix that.

...have been reduced to playing PoMo games about the underlying nature of reality.

Balderdash.

Is Toynbee postmodern? The idea that you can't write history acccurately without perspective predates Postmodernism by many decades.

The idea that history can't include everything, and the use of the word "narrative", might fool you in some way, I guess. But catcalling "Postmodern" at them seems like an unthinking response (or another keyboard macro misfire?) to me.

I don't think anyone can include everything that happens; I don't think John Keegan was wrong to point out what he did in his "The Face of Battle"; and I think that at least some of what he pointed out there about the chaos getting streamlined in the retelling of fights fits in very neatly with the Flashman notion.

The idea that people are only fitfully objective story-builders is buttressed, not by Postmodernism, but by very recent, I daresay even post-Postmodern, research into cognition. Done by people doing their damnedest to do actual science -- not by Lacanian hacks. Unlike them, the work is being done by people who are looking for true "human nature", not just Marx-inspired deconstruction.

Actually, Chris it does. The fact that you select the 'acid tests' means that you're free to select strawmen, or opponents you're comfortable with.

Shrug. I came here for a while, and I'm on a few other conservative/hawkish blogs. I don't pretend that I've made an absolute and unimpeachable proof that I've encountered every conservative argument there is, but I've done a reasonably good job of it to my own satisfaction.

In contrast, you've whipped up the strawman of the netroots as the driving force of the Democratic party more times than I can count.

When opponents point out things they think I should look at, I tend to look - it's better to let people who disagree with you select the things that are likely to change your mind.

Which is fine and good - the fact that I don't read one particular book that you recommend doesn't mean I don't do so.

Chris, if I was alone, Edwards would be the dominant candidate for the Democrats, and Lamont the sitting Senator from CT. Don't confuse 'popular in the media' - especially 'popular in the Internet' with 'popular in real life'.

Edwards hardly lost the nomination because of some pro-war backlash, and Lamont lost because Lieberman basically got adopted by the Republicans... as have you yourself. Suffice to say, I don't see you and your "movement" pulling the lever for a D come November... but I very much doubt it'll make a difference, thankfully.

AL,

I was working with the gunman analogy and continued going about 5 steps too far. But I'll boil it down to the basics.

After any police violence(when the suspect was unarmed) there's a backlash (see King, Rodney) and police do their best to honestly investigate the crime, find out what's wrong, and how to prevent an unarmed suspect from being killed in the future.

Investigators are going to have a few problems with this case. Obviously, Iraq implied that it was armed, but was Iraq really acting in a threatening matter? It also doesn't help that Officer Bush has made statements that don't agree with the observed facts (uranium tubes) or used unreliable secondary witnesses to draw his conclusions (Curveball). And there appears to be lots of information that Bush came to this conclusion while not paying attention to vital information that demonstrated no weapons at all (uranium tubes, UN inspections etc, etc)

In court, the prosecution would probably argue that the officer was negligent in his awareness, which lead to an unnecessary shooting. The defense would argue that the man was clearly irrational, and implied threating behavior with a weapon. That pretty nicely sums up the bimonthly argument we have here at WOC.

Still, we can't redo anything. I'm more interested in how the precinct changes to fix itself to prevent this from happening the next time:
How do we make sure we our intelligence is foolproof? How do we judge the difference between a nation which claims armorment to protect itself from a nation that is a true threat?
How do we expose nations that quietly build arms without losing all control of the situation (Iran)?

And that's the problem, even if you think Iraq was a good idea, it's obviously something we can't repeat every time we have a plausible arms crisis. And that's really the problem I have with this administration: there not showing any signs that they have learned ANYTHING, or are thinking outside the box to prevent the next blunder.

Now, I may not agree with Tony Blair on this issue, but at least he took the criticism like a man and tried to be honest about what they got right and what they got wrong. I can respect that. I can't respect Bush defining Iraq merely in terms of 'freedom', it's gotten waaaay to complicated for that.

Alchemist - those are damn good questions. I continue to believe that we need to try and fix three things Right Now: our intelligence capabilities, which are woefully inadequate; the international organizations which are supposed to be but are not the front line in dealing with these issues; and our ability to fight long-duration low-intensity wars. So I completely support postmortems designed to improve any of those.

How's that?

A.L.

AL-

Good post and as one of the members of the VRWC I can agree with most of what you said. I do have a small quibble. You say:

And therein lies the rub. Because even if we accept the most benign interpretation - that the 'death to America' chants are bravado, posturing designed to keep a political leadership's grasp on power, the problem is that the movements they launch, incite, and support may not be any easier to control than the alliances and armies in Central Europe were in 1914.

But, I think we have evidence that at least some of them want to pursue 'Death to America', re: 9-11. And 3-11 and 7-7 etc. Can we really take the chance that Iran and/or al Queda get nukes and use them? Per Wretchards conjectures at what point to we say, "Okay, now you've got me in a place where I must take action?" And we take like action, which then gives our enemies their causus belli.

As an aside, I went over to Eric Red's place and there was avedis. Acting like..... avedis. /snark off

AL-

I'm willing to risk the one bite the dog will get in...

Okay, which of your kith and kin are you willing to sacrifice? How many? 1 million? 1/2 million? 1/10 million? 2 million? That is how many that particular dog will bite. Your father? Your mother? Your wife? Your cousin? How many of mine are you willing to sacrifice? Sacrifice to the savage hordes? The tribal societies who are STILL living in the 7th century of honor, shame and face.

The wave is coming, and we need to hope for leadership that will enable us to ride it into shore.

Nice simile. But your surfboard is too short and someone is going to drown. We need a leader who is going to go to Riyadh, Tehran, Islamabad and Peshawar, Damascus and Beirut to look their leaders in the eye and say, "You have shamed us. Understand? Root out your radicals now. You have 6 months. Or when the attacks come be sure I am going to take biblical coup on your sorry midieval heads and you shall reap the whirlwind." If we let them KNOW that they are under the gun they just might wake up and quit screwing around.

Go here and read Marc MacYoung's take on the criminal mindset. It will give you pause to know how utterly helpless you really are to those who have none of the stops and checks of a normal citizen. Then apply this thinking to the Jihadis. You might not sleep too much tonight.

Robohobo: If I were you, I would look up the movie "Persepolis" (or the books. I haven't seen either yet, but all those leftist-critics love it). The writer was a child during the 'revolution' and found that she suddenly had to hide her love for western things (Bee Gee's albums, Michael jackson, Punk Rock). You'd be surprised how modern most iranians are... but they're goverment has them by the throat.

Most of the country is proudly in the 21st century, just not the ruling class. Most Iranians would also love for their goverment to be offed and terrorists exiled... but they don't really want to be bombed either.

Oh no, robo - I've walked down that path. And the answer at the end of it is, simply, that we nuke them now. Because no threat any president here is going to be capable of making - short of the 'one bite' you deplore - is going to be taken seriously. So if we subscribe to your worldview, we're screwed.

Just as if we subscribe to the 'inevitable insurgent triumph' worldview, we're screwed.

I don't buy it. Yes, there are some badasses on the other side of the fence. Yes, we need to pay attention to them. But do you really want to cause the war you want to avoid?

A.L.

And actually, robo, you also ought to read Postrel's book - 'Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran' it's speechy and lefty and about abstract theory - but the Iranians want liberalism, not radicalism - but they're being screwed by their leadership, who is having to try harder and harder to cling to power (see Union, Soviet). It's one of the most hopeful books I've read in some time.

A.L.

The Algerian example isappropriate,
but not in the way you think it. The Algerian expedition, which began in 1830 under the auspices of Regency France; mostly because
of repeated acts of piracy against French vessels (tantamount to the no-fly zone attacks in the late 90s) would last 17 years. An imperfect parallel on the British side would be the interventions in the NorthWestern Frontier; from 1817-1945; which emcompasses modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan. This of course is where the Flashman stories begin,at the retreat from Kabul in 1841; which claimed almost the entire expedition; except for one witness. Catastrophes like that, inspire Kipling's verse and prose in "Arithmetic on the Frontier" where 'two thousand pounds of education, were no match for a jezail (Afghan rifle, comparable to an RPG or IED, in this context.
G.M. Fraser's tales beginning at Kabul, winding through Balaklava
in the Crimean War ,the Indian Mutiny, et al is eerilyappropriate.
In another context it would be an anti-war polemic interesting inso far as it details the often callous incompetence of military establishment. Yet Fraser like Kipling a century earlier extolls
the courage of the British fighting man. Afghanistan re-emerges in the pages of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, in the form of
Watson's jezail war wound at Maiwand, and the evil mercenary
henchman of Dr. Moriarty Colonel Sebastian Moran; a veteran of
Sherpur, Cheresib and a half
dozen campaigns on the Frontier.
Churchill would add his chapter on his struggle against the "Mullah of Malakand's forces, before confronting another such figure on the plains of Omdurman, Sudan. All this indicates that our own
adventure in the Stans is likely to go on for quite a while

Chris,

You are doing good spadework here, but - the unfortunate truth is, "It's time to stop fighting for a lost cause.", isn't really accurate.

After all, the lost cause, STILL has over 100K troops in Iraq, and I'm fairly doubtful, now that the monkey has grabbed the shiny object in the bottle, that the monkey is going to let go, until the shiny object is pried from it's fingers (The US being the monkey, the shiny object being military control of the oil flow in Iraq.)

I hope to be proven wrong, but I'm cynical.

I'm fairly doubtful, now that the monkey has grabbed the shiny object in the bottle, that the monkey is going to let go, until the shiny object is pried from it's fingers (The US being the monkey, the shiny object being military control of the oil flow in Iraq.)

Why is having control over the 2nd largest amount of the world's greatest strategic resource a bad thing? Would Iranian control be preferrable? Also, is the US denying Iraqi citizens economic benefit from the oil flow?

I suppose it would be too much to ask Mark Pyruz not to lie.

"Taking into account critical US cooperation with Sadaam's regional war during the 1980's"

I assume Mark is referring to the grain shipments sent to Iraq, and radar data/ satellite intelligence. All of which began long, long after the war started, and which was pretty much the extent of the USA's assistance.

A war begun by Saddam himself, I might add, happily bankrolled by Soviet arms and by Soviet/French debts that remain a live subject for Iraq's finances to this day. Nice to have the German chemical firms who helped him with the precursors for the chemical weapon attacks on Iranian troops, too. Which were delivered by Soviet rockets and shells, generally - not surprising, since their military doctrine called for chemical attacks as part of their modus operandi or war (vid. also Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan).

In addition to the grain and satellite information, the USA also kept the Persian Gulf open to international oil shipping, on behalf of the international community. Perhaps the USS Stark, hit by 2 Iraqi Exocet missiles, rings a bell?

All of which went on at the same time that Ollie North was working to provide the Iranians with spares for their fighter fleet. Which also began considerably after the war did.

Obviously, this is some new definition of "cooperation" with which I am unfamiliar. Maybe it's a translation from the French definition?

Saddam's regional war in the 1980s is a perfect example of the kind of consistent, grandiose, disastrously deluded miscalculation he engaged in routinely. But for the hate-America types, of course, it can't ever be about someone else. It MUST be about America, and America's evil.

As they'd say back in the day, morally bankrupt - to the max.

Leave a comment

Here are some quick tips for adding simple Textile formatting to your comments, though you can also use proper HTML tags:

*This* puts text in bold.

_This_ puts text in italics.

bq. This "bq." at the beginning of a paragraph, flush with the left hand side and with a space after it, is the code to indent one paragraph of text as a block quote.

To add a live URL, "Text to display":http://windsofchange.net/ (no spaces between) will show up as Text to display. Always use this for links - otherwise you will screw up the columns on our main blog page.




Recent Comments
  • TM Lutas: Jobs' formula was simple enough. Passionately care about your users, read more
  • sabinesgreenp.myopenid.com: Just seeing the green community in action makes me confident read more
  • Glen Wishard: Jobs was on the losing end of competition many times, read more
  • Chris M: Thanks for the great post, Joe ... linked it on read more
  • Joe Katzman: Collect them all! Though the French would be upset about read more
  • Glen Wishard: Now all the Saudis need is a division's worth of read more
  • mark buehner: Its one thing to accept the Iranians as an ally read more
  • J Aguilar: Saudis were around here (Spain) a year ago trying the read more
  • Fred: Good point, brutality didn't work terribly well for the Russians read more
  • mark buehner: Certainly plausible but there are plenty of examples of that read more
  • Fred: They have no need to project power but have the read more
  • mark buehner: Good stuff here. The only caveat is that a nuclear read more
  • Ian C.: OK... Here's the problem. Perceived relevance. When it was 'Weapons read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
The Winds Crew
Town Founder: Left-Hand Man: Other Winds Marshals
  • 'AMac', aka. Marshal Festus (AMac@...)
  • Robin "Straight Shooter" Burk
  • 'Cicero', aka. The Quiet Man (cicero@...)
  • David Blue (david.blue@...)
  • 'Lewy14', aka. Marshal Leroy (lewy14@...)
  • 'Nortius Maximus', aka. Big Tuna (nortius.maximus@...)
Other Regulars Semi-Active: Posting Affiliates Emeritus:
Winds Blogroll
Author Archives
Categories
Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en