Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Of all the items Joe Knippenberg has posted on Iraq, the most predictable and disturbing are those from Hanson. Pass over quickly the irrelevant historical examples, the confused discussion of offensives, asymmetric warfare and so on. Hanson’s point is that our military forces must be allowed to operate like a real military; no more emphasis on training and patrolling. Just go out and get the bad guys. This is ridiculous. The reason that the emphasis went to training and patrolling is that we started out with the idea that we should hunt down and kill insurgents and this failed. It failed not for want of firepower or the willingness to use it but because the central problem in Iraq is not military but political. (Consider in this regard NATO’s recent public admission that it killed too many Afghan civilians in 2006.) Joe K is simply wrong to say that our military force must first convince our opponents that they can’t prevail through violence. Our opponents are part of the current government. They and our other opponents outside the government do not share our view of what victory in Iraq means. We want democracy; they want their factions to prevail. This is a political problem. Should we use force against the factions in the government? Hanson’s articles are most disturbing because his rhetoric is really the beginning of the argument that we could have prevailed in Iraq if only the military had been allowed to operate without restraints imposed by misguided politicians. The same dumb argument is made about the war in Vietnam. If this myth gains currency, it will prove as harmful as the similar Vietnam myth has proven to be.

Discussions - 29 Comments

Hanson is right. Tucker is a bureaucrat. We must win in Iraq like we won in Germany and Japan at the end of WWII.

M. Craig - That’s a response?

I agree that more must be said on how the doctrine of unconditional surrender of established governments applies in Iraq.

If you delude yourself that the problems in Iraq exist SOLELY because of indigenous influences and forces WITHIN Iraq, then sure, you can scoff that the policy we pursued against Japan and Germany is irrelevant. BUT IF you ALLOW yourself to see how Iran and Syria are sponsoring, supporting, supplying and establishing militia, sub-national forces inside Iraq, then you easily reach the conclusion that the ESTABLISHED GOVERNMENTS of Syria and Iran have got to go.

Many don’t look at what Iran and Syria are doing BECAUSE they ALREADY reached the conclusion that they don’t want to tangle with either of them. That’s fine, but at least have the honesty to admit as much. At least admit that you think so little of your country that you’re willing to accept untold provocation from dirtball regimes, such as that of the mullahs and the Assads.

For my part, I want to go after the Iranians, and have since 1979. We have unfinished business with that regime, so let’s get about squaring accounts with them.

For a highly credentialled guy, Mr. Tucker’s posting is pretty thin stuff. He could have a good point; he just hasn’t made it here today.

Credentials mean nothing to me. If he was wrong, no amount of credentials could rectify it. And if he was right, nothing in his resume would be needed to fortify it.

What I see here is annoyance. Doesn’t Hanson know that all the best and the brightest have already damned the whole Iraqi campaign as lost, doomed, and that the only thing left is to try to prevent some helicopter from the rooftop denouement.

This hysterical, unmanly stampede to defeat is really sordid and squalid. Just about any generation before the 1960s would have rolled up their sleeves, assessed what’s worked, what’s failed, reinforce success, cancel out failure, and get on with the damn war.

But then again, any generation of Americans prior to the 1960s would never have suffered the provocation we’ve received from Tehran, would never have treated Syria and that dirtball Assad as if it was the Soviet Union, with 300 Tank divisions and thousands of atomic warheads behind him.

We’ve done EVERYTHING we could to make this ENTIRE war more difficult than it needed to be, and then we moan and groan about it, about how it was destined to go wrong.

It’s pathetic.

assessed what’s worked, what’s failed, reinforce success, cancel out failure, and get on with the damn war.

Yes, that’s just it. We can not lose that war for those people nor for ourselves. What is the point in being THE world superpower if we will just quit when victory is not obvious and easy? Maybe we should have done more, better, faster, but so what? This is now and we cannot just pick up our toys and go home.

While aspects of VDH’s predictability make me uneasy about him, I honestly think Tucker has misrepresented his article. Take a look, it’s Joe’s Washington Times link below. Also check out the first link Joe gives, the F. Kagan one. Powerful.

Tucker might also let us know what he’s for, as the post above seems to give us no good options, not even a "lesser evil" option.

As for the Vietnam argument, my impression is that it is simply true that we could have won that war, had the American people been willing to stick it out and take another 20 to 30,000 deaths. (and God only knows how many more Vietnamese deaths) They weren’t, and with the way Mac and LBJ had systematically lied to them, they had their reasons. It was a bad decision to begin with (unlike Iraq, my friends), although it might have been put somewhat right, by way of a whole lot more blood. In any case, the way the post-Watergate Congress cut off aid to the S. Vietnamese govt. was very shameful. Who knows how long they might have stuck it out had the Dems not gotten on their high horse.

I agree, the Dems clearly lost Vietnam, and they threw away the game in the last quarter by cutting off funding and other aid to the South Vietnamese. Sadly, I think this will be repeated with Iraq...probably not in the next two years (it’s the one thing W might use is invisible veto pen to disallow), but after 2008, it sure will IF Dem control is consolidated.

And then? A year of two of Clintonesque nonsense, and then another 9/11...guaranteed. Why? Because we aren’t just dealing with religious crazies living in caves. Radical Islam is a vast social movement, and it is growing. These people take defeat in stride, and every victory boosts their ambitions. This is a very dangerous world taking shape, and the West (as usual) will be caught flat-footed.

Carl -- In response to an earlier post, the always civil Peter Lawler asked what I was for in Iraq. I explained that I was for trying to fix the political problem. We can do this with military force if we pursue a Roman option (more or less indiscriminate slaughter until everyone sees that we are not to be messed with; this option seems popular among the commenters on this blog) or what we might call the Shinseki option (200 to 300,000 thousand troops or more to impose martial law indefinitely; this would be Saddamism with a human face). Each of these options raises its own set of political problems, domestic and international. So, it seems to me as I said in the post that a political solution has to precede any change in military strategy or be the basis for a change in military strategy. The best political solution in Iraq (and the one at the moment that seems the least likely to occur) is the development of a non-sectarian government or at least one that treats all sects equally. If the Iraqi government’s new effort in Baghdad does in fact attack all factions equally, that would be a good sign and we might be able to support that effort with more troops. That the first effort was carried out against Sunni militias was not a good sign. We have limited leverage to produce a non-sectarian government unless the factions/sects decide that peaceful co-existence is better than continued slaughter. One would have thought they, particularly the Sunni, would have come to this point by now. Failing the non-sectarian solution, we can back one of the sects. If we back the Shia, we further Iran’s interests and alienate Sunni regimes that we need to counter Iran. If we back the Sunni, we are supporting a small minority and thus some sort of non-democratic solution which will require a lot of force to sustain (again this would be some version of Saddam’s regime). In response to a previous post I tried to explain why I thought a partition into Shia, Sunni and Kurd areas would not work.

Some weeks ago there was talk of a moderate (i.e. non-sectarian) coalition forming a new government. Al-Sistani, the Shia spiritual leader, ultimately did not support this idea and it appears to have collapsed. Perhaps not. The new effort from by the Iraqi government may indicate that the moderate non-sectarian coalition is struggling to life. We should all hope so. If it is, then an increase in our forces (more than 20,000 I would suggest, probably a lot more: see previous post on ratios of troops and police to civilian population necessary for "stability") might well help and could even tip the balance.

The biggest problem with the arguments of both Kagan and Hanson, as far as I can see, is that they do not recognize what the political situation is in Iraq. We are not supporting a beleaguered government battling insurgents. We are in the midst of a sectarian conflict which includes the government.

Obviously, I don’t think I misrepresented Hanson’s articles (I was responding primarily to the first one). But I was responding to what I take to be the implicit message that somehow the military has been constrained in Iraq. This is not true. Nor is it true in Afghanistan.

As for Vietnam, to make a statement about why we did not lose is not to say that we could not have won. Restraint on the use of force was not the reason we lost in Vietnam. It is not why we are in such a difficult situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Tucker - Yes, we have a lot of Romans around here and, yes, Lawler is always civil. Thank you for this thoughtful response. Facts on the ground do matter. So you think the political situation may respond to a "surge" in stages keyed to Iraqi responses?

P.S. - By the way, I don’t think Joe K. fairly belongs among your Romans.

Steve -- I think we should tie the surge and a jobs program to what the Iraqis do. The more the moderates (I realize the relative character of this term in this context)attack the extremes the more support of all sorts we will give the moderates. This may increase our leverage.

I did not mean to imply that Joe K was a Roman and hoped to indicate this by referring to some "commenters" as Romans.

David, I plastered this
in some other comment, but wondered what you thought about it.

Then I ask, wasn’t the military necessarily constrained by politics and politicians? I know, I keep reading that Bush really listens to his generals, but there are always constraints like expense and what size military we will sustain (or can raise) and the appearance of a massive occupying force. Also, that we just don’t go around slaughtering people, because if the point of being there is to cause democracy, to go about slaughtering innocents is absurd and certainly counter-productive.

My question, (which I did not put at all well above) my continuing question is really a moral one. Maybe there is no room for that in geo-political/military issues, but how do we ever leave that place without putting it right or as right as possible? It seems to me more imperious to go and leave their innocents to sectarian slaughter than to stay and protect what we can. As I put it in some comment to Steve Thomas, below, (and, honestly, I am hoping it will amuse you and and deflect some angry response if I am being stupid) maybe it is the mommy in me, but I think we can’t leave a mess behind us. It would simply be wrong.

Kate, while there may be a moral imperative to fixing the mess we seem to have created, there is mostly the point of interest in foreign policy as I see it. Was it in our national interest to invade Iraq? That can be left aside for another day. Is it in our interest to fix the country before it breaks down into sectarian violence and possibly becomes a fundamentalist state (which it was decidedly not before the invasion)? Probably a very strong yes.

Let me say, in a civil way, that the merit of DT’s post is that it forces us to think about the uncomfortable fact that it’s far from clear who we’re for and who we’re against in Iraq. Of course, we’re for the peaceful moderates and against the violent extremists, but that clear-cut distinction doesn’t seem to exist on the ground. But don’t get me wrong, I do agree with Kate that we have the moral imperative to do what we can to fix or at least patch the mess and especially to do what we can to keep the effectual truth of the war from having been an Iranian empowerment program. The most dishonorable aspect of our retreat from Vietnam, as has been said, was our cruel abandonment of all the good people who fought with us there; it was not that much of a strategic disaster at all. Most of all we can’t abandon the Kurds (again), but the same point goes for lots of other ordinary Iraqis. I also agree that we don’t have what it takes to be Romans (even we in Rome, Georgia). I, finally, agree with Carl that David’s version of connecting the surge to Iraqi moderation and responsibility needs a lot of work.

Kate -- the link you left took me to a more or less blank WSJ page, so I can’t comment on what you said. I don’t deny or even question the moral issue but just because there is a moral imperative to do something does not mean that there is something that can be done. I don’t see the morality in expending more blood and money without any prospect of it doing some good. The one chance of it doing some good, I think, is if we encourage some non-sectarian government and then help only to the extent that the government actually governs in a non-sectarian way. Peter’s comment ("I, finally, agree with Carl that David’s version of connecting the surge to Iraqi moderation and responsibility needs a lot of work"), I found civil but a bit confusing. Of course it will take work or did Peter mean that I must do more to make it plausible? If he meant the latter, I suppose I would say that it is the only hope and is as plausible as it is. What, Peter, is the alternative?

I disagree. We largely won on the battlefields in Viet Nam. That war was lost in America--in D.C. and in the Media. At the end, it was lost by Democrats who wanted not just an American withdrawal, but a Communist victory. See--Democrats CAN win a war when they set their minds to it.

But part of the reason it was lost in America was its interminable length (and hence casualties). So in that sense, had Johnson’s heart been in it, had his policy been Victory, not "Don’t Win, Don’t Lose", had there been no bombing pauses, calibrated targeting to "send messages", no "off-limits" targets, etc., then perhaps the war could have been shortened--and therefore won. The North Vietnamese have admitted that they were on their last legs after Tet, but held on partly due to the efforts of Fonda, Kerry & Co.

Here is Johnson’s "surge" speech, btw:

Maliki needs to decide if he’s a statesman or a sectarian. If he’s going to cuddle up to Syria, coddle al Sadr and obey Iran, then he’s our enemy. And we need to stop pretending we’re not at war with Syria, where the terrorists come from, and Iran, where the IEDs come from. Pretending is what got us here. We pretended Castro didn’t whack JFK, that Arafat and Abbas didn’t kill our diplomats and were ’partners for peace’, that bin Laden wasn’t a problem, that Saddam wasn’t helping terrorists, that the Sauds aren’t funding terrorism and now that Syria and Iran aren’t at war with us. We’re not the Great Satan--we’re the Great Pretender.

Kate -- one other thing. Yes there are always political constraints but I was referring to the operational constraints on the use of firepower in Iraq not the strategic constraints to which you refer.

David, I am sorry about the link. It was from Friday’s Wall Street Journal editorial page, (January 5, 2007) by Dan Senor and Roman Martinez, titled Dynamic Ideas for Iraq. I’ll email the text to you. They write about making the "surge" something serious, about streamlining economic development with a "counterinsurgency economic czar" proposing this position be filled by an appointee chosen by the Democrats and a proposal for better communication on the whole topic by the president. Your comment #14 made me think of it.

Then how much hope is there for your non-sectarian government? From here, it looks like that is going to take a long time, and maybe is a matter of generational change.

As to your one other thing, I have been reading that there were operational constraints, though I’m tired now and can’t think where I read that - as in was it a credible source or not. I heard Rush Limbaugh ranting about it while I was folding laundry the other day, but don’t count him as credible and wonder where my eyes saw the charge.

Peter, since we are for Democracy, can we formally support one group in Iraq over another, beyond apparently preferring the peaceful?

Tony, Yep on both points.

ps; Isn’t "law and order" is a misnomer? Has there has ever been ’law’ (i.e. the rule of law through politics) without establishing a minimal level of ’order’ first?

Kate -- got the e-mail and read the article. The authors, like Kagan and Hanson, don’t acknowledge that the problem is not an insurgency but sectarian conflict. The recent Defense Department report on Iraq, which I referenced in my original post on Iraq, makes this point. Hence, killing more bad guys will not work. Everyone in Iraq is a "bad guy" in the sense that everyone (i.e., the faction leaders and their militants) would rather prevail than live in a peaceful prosperous democracy, which is what we want. This again means we face an essentially political problem rather than a military problem. The Roman solution would seek to remove the political problem by killing as many as possible, while the Shinseki solution (unfair to name this after the former Army Chief of Staff) would "solve" the political problem by suppressing politics in Iraq. If a surge or our military efforts don’t help somehow to fix the political problem, rather than destroying or suppressing it, then I don’t see that these efforts will accomplish much. I think the authors are right that it will take more than the 20,000 now spoken of to produce an effect. I believe that a non-sectarian government driven by self-interest is possible and without waiting years for it to come about.

Thank you, David. Surely not everyone in Iraq is a "bad guy" as the military folk I know who come back are quick and insistent to tell me. But I do know what you mean in your comment by "everyone" and that to a given faction, peace means not having to concede nor compromise anything. Which is what I mean by suggesting it may take a generational change to get past that. Maybe not. People learn and change and maybe that this way is so unpleasant and uncomfortable, they will try another way. Democracy is clearly about more than elections. But given what you say, your last sentence seems unlikely. Do you believe in it, or do you hope for it?

As I indicated in the parentheses, "everyhone" in Iraq means the sect leaders and their militants. They hold the power. I hope some form of not simply sectarian government is possible in Iraq but I don’t think it was ever likely. As far as I can see the only reason the sectarian conflict did not get worse sooner is that al-Sistani, having a vast majority on his side, was willing to to let the democratic process give him power. For that reason the Sunnis resisted.

David Tucker - I wonder what you think of General Odierno’s comments - ">">"> here.

Steve -- I think most of what the General says makes sense. I dont think a pull back of US forces in three or four months will be possible, however, unless the sectarian problem is fixed. How will Iraqi forces become non-sectarian in that time, if the government itself is not? I think the General shows he is aware of the problem. Not clear from the article what he can do about it. This article ( the NYT mentions that the administration will set goals for Iraqi government but leaves unanswered the question of what penalty the Iraqis will pay if they don’t meet them. This points to the lack of leverage we have.

I think I agree with both David Tucker and with Hanson... and I don’t think that is a contradiction. In other words the central problem is military and political, or rather the central problem is that we are looking for a central problem...this is like arguing heads vs. tails...lets see the whole coin, realize its a coin and be done with it. Everyone seems to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, looking for this mystical "The Reason". Their is no such thing as a single reason or a miracle cure. All these particular Reasons are probably myths when taken to be the whole. An interesting problem: The Iraqi Police...corrupt and highly factional/regional. Should we train these people and supply them with Humvees if they cannot be trusted to act as they should?

John Lewis, well said. My impression is growing that, while there remain 2 or 3 lines of analysis that are the best ones, right now there is simply a lot of disagreement among the brightest minds about what to do. No clear "lesser of evils" option is currently apparent, except the despicable one of immediate withdrawal. That means, in part, that until the smoke clears a bit, we should be sticking it out, muddling through, etc., probably surging, with Bush ARTICULATING the strategic reasons for doing so.

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