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Liberal critics of the Iraq war

Think the military situation on the ground is improving markedly.

Discussions - 15 Comments

O'Hanlon was in favor of the surge, and Pollack helped to start the war. It's not really fair to call either "liberal critics of the Iraq War."

The surge was always going to improve conditions. But that doesn't necessarily mean we are on the cusp of vanquishing our enemies in Iraq. We could always ameliorate the level of violence, the incidence of violence, but the Iranians are also able to "surge" their level of incitement, their level of low-level warfare against us and against the suffering Iraqi people.

This is the perfect time for Petraeus and Bush to reinforce the successes they've garnered through the surge, by ADDITIONAL and IMMEDIATE deployment of troops. Pull everybody in Korea and deploy them to Iraq, and not over months, but before the end of the week.

A maxim of war is reinforce success, but never failure. If the surge is working then intensify the pressure we're placing on the enemy. Let Petraeus speak to the nation, {the President should ask to speak to the nation and instead of him actually doing so, he simply introduces Petraeus speaking from Al Anbar}, let Petraeus look us in the eye, let him ask for additional troops and time, let him detail what the surge has done. Let him make the case, because everybody has tuned out Bush. THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR BUSINESS AS USUAL, THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE.

Our forces in Korea and Europe are wasted. Our troops south of the DMZ aren't stopping the North Koreans invading the South, but our air power is. Europe is not facing hordes of tank divisions, so those troops there are doing nothing, securing nothing. Those men are needed in Iraq, in Baghdad. This administration's ENTIRE foreign policy is on the line in Iraq. That being the case, shouldn't their efforts match the enormity of the stakes. If the surge is gaining traction, more forces will intensify that traction.

GO FOR VICTORY! Let Petraeus ask, let him PERSONALLY ASK for more men, more time, let him ask the American people for a chance to win the damn thing.

The American people are not going to turn down a four star General, looking them dead in the eye, begging them for a chance to prevail. It's not gonna' happen. So let the inept Bush get the hell out of the way, and let Petraeus make the case.

There's something to what both Brett and Dan says. Nonetheless, the article seems pretty measured and only ambiguously positive to me. It's advice of let's wait and see through early 2008 is most reasonable. The White House is sending it around this morning. We really, really just don't know whether the improvement in conditions can be translated into anything approaching stability, but nobody has suggested a better idea. Certainly the authors have done a great service by helping to buy needed time.

Wars now are caused by religious confrontation mainly. It stands for East-West fight history will be prolonged. The United States and Iraq war is just the chapter of the story but too tiresome one.

I'm all for civil discourse, but Brett's comment that it's "not really fair to call them 'liberal critics of the Iraq war'" is something beyond a polite understatement. It is not just unfair to call them "liberal critics", it is dishonest and bordering on delusional to describe them as such. Pollack authored the cheerleading-for-war book entitled "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq." The only thing it lacks in fearmongering is one of Condi's mushroom clouds on the cover. Bush, Cheney and crew were obvioulsy pretty eager to go to war, I don't think they needed any help from "liberal" assistants. For a solid takedown on the idea of O'Hanlon as a credible analyst on anything occurring within a 1,000 mile radius of Iraq, do see this Glenn Greenwald article, which is quite thorough. It's interesting to see how O'Hanlon has been feeding his Cheney-parroting line that success is "just around the corner" to anyone who will read/listen to it for quite some time now. It's also interesting that the liberally-biased (and therefore, if one is to buy that cheap-n-easy smear, evil!) NPR has given him a platform to spew such tripe. How wrong does one have to be to really earn their stripes as a "thoroughly discredited" pundit, and scratched off the "experts to contact" list?

I saw the Greenwald piece, and noted that virtually all the quotations came from 2003 and 2002. What has O’Hanlon said lately?

In the end, I doubt that current opponents of the war (and the surge) would regard anyone’s testimony to the contrary as credible. Our failure in Iraq has become an article of faith.

What I found significant about the piece are its placement on the NYT op-ed page and the institutional location of the authors (Brookings). Neither would seem to be a common venue for such an argument.

Didn't you show us in your post what O'Hanlon has said lately? And how does either what he said in 2003, 2005, or just the other day in his NYT op-ed make him a "liberal"? (Please don't tell me because it was printed in the NYT) And the failure in Iraq, by almost any standard, is hardly an article of faith. At this point it is based on years of evidence. If anything, the idea that victory is "just around the corner" has been an article of faith within the Bush administration, and among his loyal minions, and continues to be so. And I doubt the loyalists see it as a problem, as they - and you - are typically strong proponents of faith and faith-based programs.

Guest NYT op-eds run the gamut - remember, the administration used that same page to make its case for war. O'Hanlon's been on the same wavelength as Pollack.

Articles of faith are the coin of the realm on this issue, Joseph. It's a little odd to point out the mote in the eye of war opponents, though. After all, they seem to have been right about a lot of things so far, whereas the faith of Bill Kristol, Hugh Hewitt and John Hinderaker hasn't fared so well in its contact with reality.

But victory is just around the corner, I guess. Let's just wait and see. It's the lost horizon.

Whether victory or defeat is right around the corner in the campaign in Iraq is as yet unknown. But let's make sure that if the result is adverse to us, that we can say to ourselves: "We tried everything, we didn't shortchange ourselves or the effort, we gave them the best chance they had in the history of islam to improve their lot, if it didn't work, it was their fault, not ours."

It's one thing to be thwarted knowing that you laid out everything on the line, that your effort was complete, that you may have been frustrated, but it wasn't for want of effort, it wasn't for want of patience, constancy and grit.

And one thing more, as a serious, substantive, strategic response to the events of 9/11: the left has offered NOTHING.

It's almost as if the Left is content to repeat the Arab narrative, to wit: There's nothing wrong with islam, and to the extent that there is something wrong with islam and those muslim states in the Mideast, it's all due to the Western insertion of the Zionist entity in their midst; so but for the Zionist entity, but for the enduring "Palestinian"/Israeli dispute, but for the obstinate Jews we wouldn't be having any problem with the region. Subscribing to that narrative absolves them from formulating any response to Arab/muslim supremacism, other than urging additional diplomacy, other than urging us to go to the United Nations, other than urging all involved to get down to "the hard work" of negotiating a "two state solution" to the "Palestinian" issue. Thus the response of the Democrat foreign policy establishment to 9/11 and the three decades of terror building up to 9/11 is completely consistent with that of the UN, the Europeans, not to mention the Arab League.

In short the Democrats believe if we would have a peaceful solution to the problems besetting the Mideast, we must intensify pressure on the Israelis. And that's what we're seeing, especially in the creation of "the Quartet." It isn't going to work, for the problem existed before the creation of the state of Israel, and has nothing to do with that creation. It's all about islam. And it always was. It isn't about competing jurisdictional claims to the hill country of Judea, Samaria or the Gaza strip.

I'm in a hurry, but I'm glad this discussion was brought up and hope to return to it later (Hugh Hewitt dedicated Friday's show to interviewing one of the NYT writers). Let me just say right now that, liberal credentials aside, Dan hits the nail on the head with his analysis of the Left's alternative to how America needs to deal with radical Islam in the post-9/11 world.

Brett and Craig (our sources of constant [liberal] commentary, generally much appreciated),

You're right. Both sides have articles of faith, in this and in other arenas (e.g., embryonic stem cells, though I have no idea where either of stands on this particular question).

On Iraq, I have two questions. First, can you imagine the possibility of American "success" in Iraq, defined as the establishment of a stable regime, not generally hostile of American interests in the region, inhospitable to terrorists, and less hostile to the rights and interests of ordinary Iraqis than was the Saddam Hussein regime? (This ain't the cradle of Mesopotamian democracy for which some of us once hoped, but it would surely be improvement over present and past alternatives.)

Second, can you imagine consequences of American "failure" in Iraq, other than massive sectarian violence and dislocation (more severe and bloody than anything so far), a decline of American influence across the region and in the world in general, and an emboldening of al Qaeda and its franchisees?

Jonathan Chait offers a nuanced view of the Pollack/O'Hanlon piece and responds to Greenwald's argument.

I don't know if this will be seen now, as I was away from the blogosphere for a few days (it was nice, I recommend it), but anyway, here goes.

My main problem with the original post was, and remains, the inaccurate and misleading labeling of O'Hanlon and Pollack (especially Pollack) as "liberal critics of the Iraq war." I think the Right has obviously been trying to use that op-ed in a somewhat desperate attempt to lend credibility to their notion/hope that the situation in Iraq is improving and moving towards some vague point of what they might call "success."

But what kind of "liberal" would pen a book urging the invasion of Iraq in 2002? No liberals that I can think of whom you would normally speak of as akin to The Enemy. And Christopher Hitchens and the majority of congressional Democrats do NOT count.

To briefly address your questions. No, I can't really see success in Iraq using your definition, primarily because the maintenance of our military presence in Iraq, when Iraqis want us to leave, or worse, (and it's not just the "terrorists" and "insurgents" who approve of attacks on American/"coalition" forces), is certainly extremely "hostile to the rights and interests of ordinary Iraqis" is it not? Whether it is more or less hostile to those rights and interests than Saddam's regime is really not the issue, and the nudging towards such a comparison reveals the horribly low expectations entailed in this definition of "success" - which would appear to be very much a failure for the average Iraqi, if still a "victory" for the American Right. As to the other criteria you listed for success, the idea of a "stable regime" (with many qualifiers, of course - by comparison, Saddam's regime was infinitely more stable than the current one!) that is "inhospitable to terrorists" sounds great, but I doubt that the next terrorist attack on the West will be planned in Baghdad, in any case. Tomorrow's terrorists are already plotting away in a dark room somewhere, perhaps rooting on the guys planting IEDs in Baghdad, but not so much among them. Can you elaborate more on "American interests in the region"? If you would include oil among them, and I presume you would, why should Iraqis NOT be hostile to any American/Western involvement with their oil reserves?

As for your definition of American failure in Iraq, I think we have already been seeing those consequences for at least a couple years now. As for comparing the horrific "sectarian violence and dislocation" of the present with what could occur post-failure, well and seeing the situation worsening, this is not what Iraqis themselves predict. By a 2-1 margin, Iraqis believe the security situation will improve with the departure of the occupying military forces. Aside from this, I don't think the Right is actually concerned, beyond the strategic result for "American interests", with Iraqis killing each other.

Returning to Pollack and O'Hanlon, in any event, they now appear to be backpedaling when they are given serious questions about their op-ed claims.

On a related note, I highly recommend this article, "Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice" by Edward N. Luttwak.

Mr. Knippenberg - as my primary (but not necessarily sole) objection to your post was your highly misleading title for it, I thought I should bring this subsequent Glenn Greenwald interview w/ O'Hanlon to your attention (the full transcript is linked in his analysis article). O'Hanlon has all but confessed to simply being a tool of the DOD propagandists at this point. Quick sample:

O'Hanlon: "...I agree with the basic premise: that if I'm being held up as a "critic of the war", for example by Vice President Cheney, it's certainly only fair to ask if that is a proper characterization of me. And in fact I would not even use that characterization of myself..."


"As you rightly reported - I was not a critic of this war. In the final analysis, I was a supporter."

At the very least, will you now at least concede that it was not at all accurate to label O'Hanlon - for starters - as a "war critic"? Even though your "liberal" label is also considerably off the mark, I'll let that slide, but "war critic" is absolutely wrong. He's been a strategy nitpicker, at best.

And to return to the actual substance of the good news that O'Hanlon and Pollack provided via their eyewitness accounts, well, it seems abundantly clear that they were merely seeing Potemkin villages set up by their military tour guides, a survey showing as much of a realistic picture of Iraq as John McCain's tour of the Baghdad market surrounded by a platoon of soldiers. And they dutifully reported the progress as described by their military PR tour guides.

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