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Tilting at Windmills

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March 27, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CONDITIONAL ENGAGEMENT....Via Marc Lynch, Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley of CNAS offer their view of the way forward in Iraq:

President Bush and his successor have only three basic choices on strategy for Iraq: unconditional engagement, conditional engagement, or unconditional disengagement.

....The Bush administration and its supporters continue to call for a strategy of unconditional engagement in Iraq....This strategy will continue to be ineffective because it does not pressure Iraqi leaders to take the political risks needed for real reconciliation. A policy of unconditional engagement in Iraq is all carrots, and no sticks.

Too many critics of the war favor a policy of unconditional disengagement from Iraq....This strategy ignores the very real contribution American forces are making to preventing a resurgence of civil war in Iraq. It also shares the flaw of the administration's approach in offering few incentives for Iraq's leaders to accommodate.

....A policy of conditional engagement — a nuanced middle position between "all in" or "all out" — offers a better chance of producing lasting progress in Iraq. Under this strategy, U.S. negotiators would make clear that Iraq and America share a common interest in achieving sustainable stability in Iraq, and that the United States is willing to help support the Iraqi government over the long-term, but only so long as Iraqis move toward political accommodation....Implementing this approach requires a credible threat to abandon allies if they don't move toward accommodation, while providing a credible promise to continue supporting them if they do move in this direction.

First: I really, really wish they'd skipped the "nuanced middle position" language, which just sets my teeth on edge. Maybe Kahl and Brimley feel the need to reassure everyone that they're neither warmongers nor hippy pacifists, but in the end this is just preening. It has precisely nothing to do with whether their position actually makes sense.

But that little micro-rant aside, does their position make sense? It's hard to say, since this is only a short memo and provides no details about just what "credible" threats they have in mind. And the devil is surely in the details here. Kahl and Brimley's position — essentially timelines and benchmarks — used to be my own, but I've become convinced over the past couple of years that it's politically infeasible.

The problem is that this approach sets you up for an endless string of bloody political battles. As things stand now, if Barack Obama takes office in January and wants to begin withdrawing troops unconditionally, that might provoke a political fight, but only one political fight. And it's one he can probably win since he'd have public opinion on his side and plenty of allies in Congress. And once the withdrawal is in motion, it's almost impossible to stop.

But what if, instead, he scratches his chin, assembles a group of foreign policy worthies, and negotiates a nuanced set of benchmarks and timelines for the Iraqi government? First, he will have wasted six months, since foreign policy worthies don't work on a faster timetable than that. Second, he's "negotiating with himself," essentially admitting up front that he's willing to stay in Iraq if someone brings enough pressure to bear on him. That's a poor start to a presidency.

And then what? The benchmarks will, of necessity, be fuzzy and malleable. In the real world, firm benchmarks just aren't in the cards for a chaotic warzone like Iraq. So the first deadline arrives and — what? It's a battle royal. Republicans will fight like crazed weasels, claiming that enough progress has been made that we should "keep our word" and stay in Iraq. Democrats will fight on the opposite side. Obama will try to find some kind of compromise and will fail. Either he keeps troops in Iraq, essentially admitting that he's never going to withdraw, or he pulls them out amidst cries that he's abandoning a solemn pledge from the U.S. government to the people of Iraq just when they need us the most.

And the next deadline? Rinse and repeat.

And again, world without end.

A couple of years ago it looked as though congressional Republicans might be softening on their support for the war. In the event, though, that turned out to be a mirage. Their support today is as strong as ever, and at this point it doesn't look like anything will change that. President Obama can afford one clean fight over Iraq at the beginning of his term, when he has the tailwind of an election at his back and the firm support of the Democratic caucus. He can't afford — or hope to win — fight after fight after fight with a Republican Party determined to paint him as a weakling and an appeaser.

And that fundamental reboot of American foreign policy we're all hoping for from an Obama administration? You can forget about it as long as we're still stuck in Iraq and still stuck fighting relentlessly over whether, and how fast, we should leave.

So color me skeptical. I'm willing to read Kahl and Brimley's longer report when it comes out, but I suspect they won't address the domestic political prospects of their proposal, and that's the key to whether it has any hope of working or not. Caveat lector.

Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Comments

Kevin, Obama can't withdraw from Iraq until at the very least there's a government in place that won't disintegrate into chaos immediately upon our departure. Think of it as being the least we can do as the departing bull from a china shop. That's not just a benchmark, it's a necessity.

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

And how long will it be until such a government is in place?

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

"He can't afford — or hope to win — fight after fight after fight with a Republican Party determined to paint him as a weakling and an appeaser."

Kevin, remember that Obama will be Commander in Chief. He can emulate his predecessor and simply tell the Republicuns to Go To Hell. And just what will they be able to do in response? Jump up and down and rant?

Posted by: CT on March 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Umm - how come no consideration of the one pairing left unexplored: conditional disengagement. This seems like the Obama plan (which is one of the main reasons why I support hiim): the default position is to redeploy out of Iraq but with the understanding that if the situation devolves to the point where: a) Al Qaeda is about to take over the whole country (this is there just to appease the weirdos who actually think this is possible), or b) sectarian cleansing threatens to literally eliminate one of the subpopulations in Iraq (entirely possible), then we reserve the right/accept the responsibility of going back in.

That sounds reasonable to me.

Posted by: reader on March 27, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

The Americans' vulnerable supply lines will be cut, following which, stranded American troops, to the extent they simply will not be massacred, will be herded off to various Abu Grabs and Gitmos where, doubtlessly, they will be given the opportunity to discover for themselves whether or not waterboarding does or does not constitute "torture."

Posted by: Heprein on March 27, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Saw a kid reach out to pet a cat once. It lunged a bit from its perch a bit him on the hand. Taken aback and for whatever reason anxious to prove to kitty he wasn't a threat he reached again for a bit of a rub on the ears. Damn, bit again! Now he's mad and gives kitty a bit of a backhanded smack. By now everyone in the room has taken notice and scolds the lad for his aggression. "But he bit me first!" comes the wail. "Yeah, well you shouldn't mess with an animal you don't know. It wasn't bothering you. Now leave the goddamned cat alone and find something else to distract you!"

Posted by: steve duncan on March 27, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

CT: Yes, he can afford to do this once, at the beginning of his presidency. But if he has to it over and over and over, it will cripple him. Don't underestimate the power of a united conservative noise machine with a new excuse every six months to paint Obama as a defeatist and a weakling who snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. I don't think he can survive multiple years of that.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 27, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Chalabi to Mark Danner, last year: "The American tragedy in Iraq is that your friends in Iraq are allied with your enemies in the region, and your enemies in Iraq are allied with your friends in the region."

Don't think this general formulation has changed much.

Posted by: JM on March 27, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, give your teeth a rest.

Four years ago the Rethugs savaged Kerry’s “nuanced” positions and thereby assigned their own particular meaning to the word – not unlike “amnesty”.

Like it or not, most of the world’s diplomacy (when practiced by grown ups) is conducted with a large amount of nuance.

Just saying.

Posted by: Keith G on March 27, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Kevin, Obama can't withdraw from Iraq until at the very least there's a government in place that won't disintegrate into chaos immediately upon our departure."

Yes, actually he can, and will probably have to.

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

So the streets of Iraq's cities are running red with blood and Bush can only say "Ah praise the prime minister of Iraq for his bold, decisive leaderhip." NOW, this LA Times headline at Google News: "Iraqi government spokesman abducted amid Baghdad violence."

My reaction was to immediately laugh. It's heinous and it's tragic if he's hurt in any way, but you just have to laugh. These filthy, contemptible, degraded Washington clown-whores like George W. Bush.

Posted by: Anon on March 27, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

"The Americans' vulnerable supply lines will be cut, following which, stranded American troops, to the extent they simply will not be massacred, will be herded off to various Abu Grabs and Gitmos"

LOL.... Can we stay within reality, please, rather than obsessing over scenarios that have zero chance of occurring?

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

And how long will it be until such a government is in place?

That depends. If sticking with Maliki and ISCI is acceptable as the basis for a Iraqi government, part of shoring them up is precisely what's happening right now in Basra, where the U.S. is helping the government's forces take military control of the city from the local militias. Iran is happy enough with ISCI and doesn't care that much for Sadr, and of course vastly prefers Shia control of the government over the chaos that might result in a return of Sunni revanchists. IMO, the Sadr faction is the main destabilizing force in Iraq, and if they and their militias can be marginalized and a reconstituted Iraqi Army put in charge of the Shia-controlled areas of Iraq (forget the Sunni-controlled parts for the near future) fewer of our troops will be needed and withdrawls can commence.

I'm not so sure this can't begin to happen on Bush's watch, and would be very happy if he could bring such a thing on, as it would make it that much easier for Obama to continue what Bush started come January 21st, 2009.

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

When the shiites leave Tahseen Sheikhly's head on a stake outside the embassy in Baghdad, what will the Bushies say? "Sheikhly was exactly right about the success of our efforts up until the moment of his murder! His murder is a testimony of our success! We should only hope that more high Iraqi officials and U.S. embassy workers are murdered! That means we are being successful, a real threat to the insurgents! Why else would anyone fight our occupation of Iraq as we kill innocent Iraqis right and left?! Death and murder and mayhem equal success."

Bush will add, "Jes one more beer. Ah hain't gotta problem. YOU got the problem."

Posted by: Anon on March 27, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

There's no point in paying attention to a couple of guys who regard Bush's unconditional engagement as ineffective. Anyone who hasn't realized by now that Bush's goal is to stay in Iraq isn't a foreign-policy person worth paying attention to.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on March 27, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

David W., you'll have to tell us how you know exactly what's happening in basra right now: we're really curious.

as to the notion that we're stuck until a stable government is in place: why? i can admit that the presence of 150K US soldiers keeps iraq from spiralling into a worse fiasco without having to think that's a good way to expend american blood and treasure.

if saddam had dropped dead of a heart attack 5 years ago, would we have felt obliged to commit to several trillions of dollars to keep the phony country of iraq (invented to serve the interests of british imperialism) whole? of course not.

the first rule of business is ignore all sunk costs: the question is, going forward, is keeping 150K troops in iraq until a stable government miraculously comes into being a wise policy?

the question answers itself....

Posted by: howard on March 27, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, actually he can, and will probably have to.

The war in Viet Nam was hated far more than the war in Iraq is, yet it took Nixon and Kissenger's "Peace With Honor" for us to disengage our forces from Viet Nam. I pretty much see the same process at work in Iraq, where I think we will manage to get enough of a government in place long enough for us to leave, with a decent interval between our departure and the eventual devolution of Iraq into something other than a failed state.

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Here's my version of their nuanced proposal.

Since there's been no meaningful progress on the benchmarks we already set up at the start of the surge, Obama takes those as his benchmarks, and pulls out as soon as he takes office. Skip the whole repeat of the debate about words like timetables or benchmarks, and the Friedman Units waiting for them to be written and then acted upon. It was insane the first time.

I'm increasingly moving toward the "brutalitarian" position: getting the hell out soonest, and saying "Sorry, Iraqis. Yeah, we broke your country, but shit happens. You fix it, if it matters to you. We're outta here."

Posted by: biggerbox on March 27, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

howard, I know what's happening in Basra right now is that the government of Iraq, such as it is, is trying to take control of that city from the local militias that assumed power there after the British pulled out of the city. Whether they'll be successful or not is to be seen, but it's clear enough what the goal is.

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

The nuanced bottom line is that conditional engagement makes the size, nature and duration of the American commitment in Iraq wholly dependent on the politics of that country.

This kind of situation will happen from time to time in foreign policy, and not just in American foreign policy. The difference here is one of degree. The magnitude of the Iraq commitment warps the priorities of the entire American defense, intelligence and foreign policy establishments; because the money for this adventure must be borrowed, it has implications for our economic position as well. To make sense, Iraq would have to be the most important place on earth -- not only more important than anything else, but more important than everything else.

Looked at in this way, the question, "does conditional engagement make sense?" answers itself. Having removed the Baathist government, the United States might fairly have been said to have a moral responsibility to see to its replacement. But the policy directed at meeting that moral responsibility is undermining all our efforts to meet all our other moral responsibilities, and as Kevin rightly says "conditional engagement" is an adjustment aimed at enabling us to continue that policy indefinitely.

Disaster in Iraqi politics is never far away. That is what it is. We cannot continue an unsustainable commitment because we can't bear the thought of what these Arabs may do to one another once we leave.

Posted by: Zathras on March 27, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin quotes: "Too many critics of the war favor a policy of unconditional disengagement from Iraq....This strategy ignores the very real contribution American forces are making to preventing a resurgence of civil war in Iraq. It also shares the flaw of the administration's approach in offering few incentives for Iraq's leaders to accommodate."

This comment ignores the very real fact that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people view the US occupation as the principal cause of ongoing violence, and want the US to withdraw.

The government of the USA has, in fact, no basis whatsoever for demanding any "accommodation" from the people of Iraq or from any government of Iraq.

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq was, and is, a crime. It was a war of unprovoked aggression based on lies to begin with. The US has utterly failed to meet its obligations as an occupying power under international law. So the US occupation is an ongoing crime and is considered by the vast majority of Iraqis to be the principal obstacle to genuine political conflict resolution and self-determination for Iraq.

The US should withdraw, unconditionally, and as quickly as possible. There is no room for "nuanced compromise" with the war-profiteering corporate criminals who perpetrated the invasion and want to perpetuate the US occupation.

As Ayn Rand once wrote, in any "compromise" between food and poison, poison wins.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 27, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

That depends. If sticking with Maliki and ISCI is acceptable as the basis for a Iraqi government, part of shoring them up is precisely what's happening right now in Basra, where the U.S. is helping the government's forces take military control of the city from the local militias.

So according to you we can't leave Iraq until we've successfuly installed a strong Iranian-allied theocracy. Which leaves the question: why the fuck should we? What exactly is in that for us?

Think of it as being the least we can do as the departing bull from a china shop.

Generally speaking, once the bull has wrecked the china shop you don't hand him some glue and ask that he sit down and put all the pieces back together before he leaves. Instead you try to shoo him out of there, and fast, before he can wreak even more damange, and then get someone competent in there to fix the mess.

Posted by: Stefan on March 27, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

OMG. All this wordiness. Its driving me crazy.

The bottom line:

1. Cheney arrives in Iraq, tells them what's going to happen.

2. The Iraqi government follows his orders.

With all these visits by Cheney to Iraq haven't you intellectuals figured out what's going on? He and his oil company friends are using the American military as their personal security company to go in and wipe out impediments to them getting their hands on the OIL! Its all about the oil.

Everytime Cheney makes a visit, he is making promises to keep Maliki in office, offering him the same deal other Republican administrations gave to the Saudis.

All this overthinking is giving me a headache.

Its all about the oil, and the continued misuse of our military, to make a bunch of oil, tired, rich white men richer, and to stroke their arrogance about being the must powerful country in the world. Be damned anybody or anything that gets in their way. After all, doesn't the world revolve around everything American?

Posted by: SquarePeg on March 27, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Goddamn this is Viet Nam all over again.

The "brutalitarian" position is the inevitable end to this and we might as well get it over with.

The situation we are in now (we broke it and we cannot fix it) is exactly why this was such a stupid thing to do in the first place.

Anyone with any knowledge of history and human nature knew this before it even started but NOOOOO, we had a woody for some blood how can it be wrong when it feels so right?

When you make a mistake that can't be fixed you acknowledge the mistake, apologize, try to make amends, and vow never to make the same mistake again!

If our country was a person I'd say we've got the maturity and wisdom of a 14 year old boy.

Posted by: Tripp on March 27, 2008 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Way forward in Iraq"?

Out.

Posted by: Dr Wu on March 27, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Viet-Nam? There, at least, there was a functioning body politic fighting us. What entity would that be here? If we leave, and we should ASAP, what passes as a geographic entity will cease to be. Is that so bad?
Think on the bright side, the Kurds get what they want,for a while, Iran gets what it wants, and the Sunni have to find a way to accommodate to the new government.
That solution will remain stable for several months, at least.

Posted by: TJM on March 27, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

"howard, I know what's happening in Basra right now is that the government of Iraq, such as it is, is trying to take control of that city from the local militias that assumed power there after the British pulled out of the city."

Actually, the evidence to date is that the British never really had control of the city and that the militias were in charge well before they pulled out. There were several stories to that effect, both before they stood down and during their stand-down.

"Whether they'll be successful or not is to be seen, but it's clear enough what the goal is."

Not really. Which local militias are you referring to? According to some accounts, only one militia is being attacked and at least one other militia is actually aiding the Iraqi government in taking down a rival. There is also speculation that al-Maliki is acting to take down a political rival, independent of any discussion of militias.

Suffice to say that there is insufficient evidence for anyone to say that they "know" what's happening in Iraq right now.

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

"That depends. If sticking with Maliki and ISCI is acceptable as the basis for a Iraqi government"

Acceptable to whom, precisely? And on what basis do you make that call?

"part of shoring them up"

Um ... if we have to "shore them up," then doesn't that, in and of itself, call into question their legitimacy?

"is precisely what's happening right now in Basra, where the U.S. is helping the government's forces take military control of the city from the local militias."

Is it? I've certainly seen evidence that suggests that the story is more complex than this, just as it usually is in Iraq.

"I'm not so sure this can't begin to happen on Bush's watch"

I am.

Posted by: on March 27, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

"the way forward in iraq"?

all i want to know is the way to the front door.

Posted by: orionATL on March 27, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

The sooner we pull out and apologize, the sooner we can go back in wearing light blue berets!

Posted by: royalblue_tom on March 27, 2008 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

They laughed at me at the local VFW four years ago when I said that Iraq was going to play out like Vietnam. Nobody's laughing at me now. Of course nobody's drinking with me either.

Posted by: buddy66 on March 27, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

it's nice to know, paulb, that even though i only rarely dip into the comments here these days, you are still out there correcting foolishness and rendering any further need for me to respond to David W superflous.

other, i suppose, than to say that broadly speaking, the idea that any of us has enough knowledge about conditions on the ground in iraq to make bold categoricals about what's going on is a little inflated.

Posted by: howard on March 27, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

howard writes:

Actually, the evidence to date is that the British never really had control of the city and that the militias were in charge well before they pulled out. There were several stories to that effect, both before they stood down and during their stand-down.

The British at the beginning of the occupation had at least nominal control of Basra and did patrol the streets of the city, but certainly after they departed the militias took full control of same. So much for splitting hairs.

Not really. Which local militias are you referring to?

The ones being attacked by Iraqi government forces. I presume for the sake of argument that you'll grant that much. Otherwise there's not much point in splitting ever finer hairs.

If you have something to add to the discussion besides fear, uncertainty and doubt though, that would be most helpful.

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Acceptable to whom, precisely? And on what basis do you make that call?

Posted by: David W. on March 27, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is correct that we are past timelines and other "nuanced" crap. Long past. It is arguable whether we can accomplish anything in the future, and up to now we have been a catastrophic force for irreparable harm. Read Stiglitz and Bilmes new book "The Three Trillion Dollar War", (in which the authors think $3 trillion is really a best case scenario and the real cost is in the $4 to 5 trillion range) and you will see that in addition to all the political arguments against the war, we also cannot afford it.

The Iraq war was a crime against humanity carried out by men who were protected from prosecution by a Republican party which controlled the only means of stopping them. These same men continue their criminal endeavor without any check from a spineless Democratic-controlled Congress, which doesn't trust the message they got in the 2006 Congressional elections that the majority of the American public want the Iraq war to end.

Yes, the United States owes the nation of Iraq a large debt for its crimes, but that debt must be repaid through diplomatic means and perhaps economic aid. The U.S. has no standing whatsoever to continue to carry on military operations, or imperial occupation (which Cheney views as a necessity to protect U.S. oil interests, probably his main interest in Iraq from day one.)

Posted by: Bob C on March 27, 2008 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

"The British at the beginning of the occupation had at least nominal control of Basra and did patrol the streets of the city, but certainly after they departed the militias took full control of same. So much for splitting hairs."

Speaking of splitting hairs.... Regardless of what happened in the beginning, by the time the British started drawing down, there was widespread agreement that they were not even remotely in charge of Basra and that events had spiralled completely out of control. That had been the situation in Basra for months before the British started moving. The current situation in Basra has not one damn thing to do with the British and it's rather foolish to pretend otherwise.

"The ones being attacked by Iraqi government forces."

Talk about missing the point.... Which ones are those? You have no idea precisely who is fighting, nor why they are fighting, and you issue confident pronouncements about the situation there. Wny is that?

"I presume for the sake of argument that you'll grant that much."

No, since it's a meaningless statement. Of course the people fighting are the ones fighting. So? If you don't know who they're fighting, nor why they are fighting, you haven't got anything.

"Otherwise there's not much point in splitting ever finer hairs."

Those "hairs" you're talking about are the size of bridge cables.

"If you have something to add to the discussion besides fear, uncertainty and doubt though, that would be most helpful."

ROFL.... Given the lack of content you've provided thus far, you're in no position to complain.

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

preventing a resurgence of civil war in Iraq

The US military is not preventing the civil war battles in Basra today. The US military is participating in the civil war battles in Basra. The US cannot be trusted to choose sides morally, ethically or fairly. No American should insert their desires into the conflict. It is not their country.

Nothing can be done to prevent the civil war the invasion and deposition of Saddam was going to start, but the agony of it can be prolonged. The Iraq Civil War would probably be over by now if the US had withdrawn in 2004. US military strength can prevent some of the hostilities from breaking out into out and out war for a time, but not indefinitely. Sooner or later Iraq will have its civil war. In the meantime the number of Iraqis killed by Americans, whether from ground or air forces, are considerable and may even be worse than the reuslts of an out and out civil war, especially given the open ended time table for a continued US occupation. Certainly the wreck of Fallujah would never had happened in an Iraqi civil war.

The longer the US stays in Iraq, the greater the probablility of another ancient city being destroyed by Americans. Americans are planning the destruction of Sadr City right now. The US occupation of Iraq must stop as soon as possible to prevent and limit Iraqi casualties from US firepower, which does far greater harm to Iraqis than they could ever do to themselves.

Posted by: Brojo on March 27, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

how long will it be until such a government is in place?

When the civil war ends, Iraq will have a stable government. The civil war cannot end until the Americans leave. The motives for continuing the occupation of Iraq are not to prevent loss of Iraqi lives.

Posted by: Brojo on March 27, 2008 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Um ... if we have to "shore them up," then doesn't that, in and of itself, call into question their legitimacy?"
____________________

Nope, not in the slightest. Plenty of legitimate governments throughout history have had to be shored up. Legitimacy does not equal stability.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 27, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

"They laughed at me at the local VFW four years ago when I said that Iraq was going to play out like Vietnam. Nobody's laughing at me now."
____________________

Well for it to end as it did in Vietnam, first we will have to have beaten the insurgency into impotence, driven off an invasion by Iran, pulled almost everyone out, and then have Congress tell the next President two years later they will not fund any effort to help the Iraqi government when Iran invades again.

Since we haven't had and aren't likely to see any such Iranian invasion, the Iraq campaign won't turn out the same as Vietnam. The end can be nearly as bad as that in Vietnam, but it won't be the same.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 27, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

i want to thank trashhauler for demonstrating that the oldies really are the goodies: "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" santayana told us a century ago, and so it goes for trashhauler's version of vietnam and his support for the "legitimacy" of iraq's current government....

Posted by: howard on March 27, 2008 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Well for it to end as it did in Vietnam, first we will have to have beaten the insurgency into impotence, driven off an invasion by Iran, pulled almost everyone out, and then have Congress tell the next President two years later they will not fund any effort to help the Iraqi government when Iran invades again."

Yes, but what does this have to do with Vietnam, where nothing like this actually happened out here in the real world? I'm with Howard; this was nothing but an amusing fantasy of yours.

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

Prestige is the main factor here - the prestige of George Bush, the Republican Party, the US military and the USA in general are all on the line. Withdrawing before "victory" (which seems to mean everybody acclaiming Iraq a great success) will damage the prestige of all these parties. Of course, the Iraq venture wasn't meant to be this prolonged or expensive. Nobody in power dreamt it would be this expensive. But having put America's prestige on the line, there's no backing down.

Posted by: CSI on March 27, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, that trashhauler has an overactive imagination. He's like that nitwit who drops by occasionally spewing nonsense about how the left is actually responsible for Pol Pot - in spite of the fact that the Khmer Rouge would never have risen to popularity without the devastation of Cambodia by Nixon's bombing.

Really though, you can't expect much from someone who still supports the brutalization of the Iraqi people. He's divorced himself from the rest of the human race with his support of the murderous reign of George W. Bush in Iraq.

Posted by: the on March 27, 2008 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

"i want to thank trashhauler for demonstrating that the oldies really are the goodies: "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" santayana told us a century ago, and so it goes for trashhauler's version of vietnam and his support for the "legitimacy" of iraq's current government...."
________________________

Overall, that's what happened, howard. Even the North Vietnamese agree with it.

As to the legitimacy of the Iraq government, my support is not necessary. It is our nation's official government position and will not change next year under a new President, no matter of what party.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 27, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Overall, that's what happened, howard."

No, dear, it isn't, which is why you can't even try to defend such utter stupidity. But then you always were incapable of dealing with reality, whether it be Vietnam or Iraq.

Posted by: PaulB on March 27, 2008 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Well, PaulB, your opinion of what is utter stupidity is quite beside the point. Your entire post is meant to insult, because that's what you come here for. Well, you've done it, so your work here is done.

Posted by: trashhauler on March 27, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

trashhauler, you can live in whatever fantasy universe you like: your depiction of vietnam is completely and totally inaccurate and, as santayana warned, like so many right-wingers, you allow that fantasy version of vietnam to lead you to a fantasy version of iraq.

Posted by: howard on March 27, 2008 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

As to the legitimacy of the Iraq government, my support is not necessary. It is our nation's official government position and will not change next year under a new President, no matter of what party.

Yes, do let's take a look at the "government" of Iraq.

Corrupt members have siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars of oil money for themselves;

have their own militias which hold unlawful power in local areas and commit crimes at will;

run death squads out of government ministries;

most members live out of the country because it's so dangerous and for over a year couldn't be bothered to meet;

government ministries have running gun battles with one another;

the prime minister ignored parliament and the constitution to conspire with Bush to extend the occupation;

and half the time entire blocs boycott their own legislature.

Clearly these are all the signs of a legitimate government. One can see similarities to the Republican party, after all.

If this government is legitimate then why didn't we listen to its pleas and defend it against a Turkish invasion per the security agreement? If this government is legitimate then why has the U.S. been arming and financing Sunni groups sworn to its overthrow?

If this government is legitimate then why has the U.S. been interfering in Iraqi politics, shifting alliances with various players as suits its interests: demanding de-Baathification one year, demanding re-Baathification the next, killing Sunni groups this month, arming them the next?

Just ask Mossadegh or Allende or half a dozen others how quickly the U.S. flips on "legitimate" governments that get in the way of its interests. As it is, this iteration of the Iraqi regime is merely a placeholder for whatever comes next, and exists at the pleasure and whims of the Bush administration, which recognizes no authority but its own.

Posted by: trex on March 27, 2008 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

This idiot trashhauler is still trying to defend the abject nonsense that Vietnam was 100% won and it was only the treachery of the defeatocrats at home that brought down the South Vietnamese government?

Look trash, you need to give us something other than the word of a demonstrated moron. Provide some documentation from a reputable source. Provide something other than your half-assed retelling of the Rambo myth.

Try learning something about military history. It will help you deal with why your support for the bloodthirsty George W. Bush is a mark of insanity.

Posted by: the on March 27, 2008 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Like most fantasies, the version of Viet-Nam that trashhauler has, contains some grains of truth. First,of course,is the Tet story, the one where the US crushed the local Southern militia. Of course, the NVA moved troops in to take their place and the US was never really able to displace them, even while going into Cambodia.
Yes, Linebacker II worked for a while, but the US had lost well before the Congress cut off funds.
When the Pentagon et al. decided that there would be no invasion of the north, perhaps because they feared the Red river would be another Yalu, the US had lost the war.
But if yo really want to blame viet-Nam on anybody, you should blame Churchill because he let the French back in.

Posted by: TJM on March 27, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent post Kevin. You've laid out the most comprehensive reason why it's a top priority for the next President to leave Iraq.
Staying is not a viable option politically here or over there.

Posted by: D. on March 27, 2008 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a great comment today which exemplifies the correct behavior from those like trashhauler:

The proper attitude is contrition, silence, and contemplation.
As a supporter of the brutal and unprovoked assault on the people of Iraq his best option now is to merely shut up and reflect on the opinions of his betters. He has disgraced himself in the field of human endeavor and should quietly sit out all further political activities.

Posted by: the on March 27, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

TJM, since, unlike trashhauler, you are a sane person, let's just note that the point of the Tet Offensive was that the johnson administration had insisted that the insurg...er, the NLF wasn't capable of an organized, mass attack in large numbers, that it was a badly defeated foe being mopped up by superior american firepower.

the tet offensive led to westmoreland asking for 200K more troops (on top of the 500K already there), and clark clifford spearheaded johnson's finally coming to his senses, refusing the request, beginning the de-escalation of the war, and, of course, dropping out of the race.

the '68 race ended up with 1 candidate, wallace, running on "bomb them back to the stone age," another, humphrey, finally, late in the day, embracing the notion of peace talks with the north vietnames, and a third candidate, nixon, campaigning on his "secret plan to end the war."

war, clausewitz reminds us, is a continuation of politics by other means: to characterize the Tet offensive only in the limited way of noting that the NLF was crushed by US forces when it tried to stand and fight is to miss the most crucial aspect of Tet: Westmoreland, although not nearly as bright, was the Petraeus of his day, and johnson his supporter, and tet revealed to anyone with an open mind that they were full of shit.

Posted by: howard on March 28, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

The 'nuanced middle position' crap is just another way for our gutless pundits to say 'Let the militias decide when we go.'

After WWII, we 'lost' Eastern Europe, China, and N. Korea and learned to live with it. Oops, we did it again. The result is that Turkey and Jordan now become the next Iraq. Bad for them, but as long as we don't destroy our economy or anything, we'll be alright...

Posted by: wmcq on March 28, 2008 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

"Their support today is as strong as ever, and at this point it doesn't look like anything will change that.

Oh, I think you'd be suprised how many Republicans would abandon the war when there isn't a Republican in the White House to club them over their heads and they're reduced to peonage status in Congress.

The neocons exert an enormus influence over the GOP, but they don't control the rank n'file. Much of that influence is within the executive branch and without it, well it's back to the think tanks. At the beginning of 2007, Maryland Republican Wayne Gilchrist (soon to be ex-Congressman) estimated (in an interview with Reason) their were 60 Republicans ready to join with the Dems on establishing a timetime framework. It was only through extreme White House pressue and with the new "surge" strategy that that number was reduced to just a handful when the vote came in.

The bottom line is that many Republicans' views on foreign policy are largely based on what party the commander-in-cheif is in. I didn't see many enthusiastic Republicans supporting Clinton's wars. Without a Republican in the White House, there will be nothing holding them to the Iraq War anymore outside of those who are in military-industrial districts. Very few are outright neocons themselves. Ron Paul himself is speculated that Republican support for the war is largely based on loyalty to the White House rather than any ideological reasoning.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on March 28, 2008 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

I think where Kevin goes wrong here is in assuming...

(a) that "conditional engagement" necessarily involves "benchmarks" and "timetables" to be met, rather than the President telling the Iraqis it is up to them to convince him that they're serious about wanting to become a united country; and that...

(b) Republicans and Democrats in the next Congress who don't like this approach would be any more effective in influencing "President Obama's" (an interesting assumption in itself) foreign policy than those in this Congress have been in influencing President Bush's.

Bush didn't invent the concept, but he certainly seems to have proven that the President, not Congress, runs foreign policy. Might we be treated to the spectacle of House Republicans trying to cut off funds for what they will surely call "Obama's" war? And I wonder if they'll have any more luck with that than anyone in recent days has!

The only real problem I see with the Kahl and Brimley plan is, if either the President fails to be convinced, or the Iraqis make it clear they want us to just leave, then we would have to pull out without having helped build a secure and democratic Iraq --which may mean not only leaving behind a mess largely of our own making, but also leaving a blot on our record as the world's allegedly only "super power".

But okay, so be it. Not all problems can be solved. People can only do their best.

Rick

Posted by: Rick on March 28, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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