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Whatever Mistakes We’ve Made, Nothing Can Compare With the Mistake of Quitting In Iraq

May 18, 2007

I lied. I can’t keep my yapper shut (so to speak).

Wretchard sums this argument up a bit in It’s Been a Long Time Coming. As usual he says more in a sentence than I can in a whole post. He also links to this letter from this commander of a small forward operating base in Bagdhad:

We have some true patriots that are sacrificing everything and betting on the U.S. to be there for them. How could we look them in the eye if given the order to pull out? The vast majority of the people on the street want what every American wants—hope for tomorrow, good schools and opportunity for their children, a safe neighborhood, employment.

Read it all. For all those that think a majority of our soldiers would “greet as liberators” Democratic led retreat, I that this sodier’s view is far more representative. That doesn’t mean they endorse every policy decision by the the Bush Administration, but it does mean they think they can win if given enough time and support. As for the “partisan” nature of the debate here he has this to say:

Most of the leaders on the ground simply ignore the political discourse, as it is not helpful to our mission.

And later:

I will try to ignore (the political debate) and stay focused on the reality of real people trying to find hope for tomorrow on the streets of the most lethal city in the world.

The professionalism of our soldiers is truly a marvel. I wish our debate was worthy of them.

The plight of our soldiers is not the only thing that matters to me. In fact what may matter even more- and I think I can take this cue from the letter above- is the plight of the ordinary Iraqi. I refuse to believe that most of them crave more death and destruction. Take this post from filmmaker J.D. Johannes:

Even in the most violence wracked Mahalas, the insides of the courtyards are filled with flowers, shrubs and grass lawns. Outside is trash and sewage, but inside the courtyard is a different world.

Check out the picture of the flowers. I think this is a metaphor for the Iraqi condition: littered and war-scarred on the outside, ordered and fertile on the inside. These are people who want the bad people to go away so they can get on with their lives. In fact as Johannes post shows, in a many ways they are.

Asghar roundly criticised me for feeling too sentimental about the feelings of our troops. Perhaps. On the stomach full of Tequila I wrote that post on, definitely. I’m stone cold sober now though and I am still possessed with the thought of this “news item” from yesterday about “Mass Graves Day“:

Traffic stopped in Baghdad’s main streets and squares Wednesday as Iraqis observed a moment of silence to mark a new national day of remembrance for the victim’s of Saddam Hussein’s regime who were buried in mass graves.

The Iraqi government declared May 16 as Mass Grave Day to commemorate the day when the first such grave was uncovered near the Shiite town of Mahaweel, about 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Baghdad.

Human rights organizations estimate that more than 300,000 people, mainly Kurds and Shiite Muslims, were killed and buried in mass graves before Saddam was overthrown by U.S. forces in 2003.

“It is a lesson that we will never forget,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. “We want to build a civilized society in which humanity is respected.”

A civilized society that only has a chance of being built if we stay. For as long as it takes. That’s what we promised. That’s what we as a country decided and acted upon. None of us had any idea it would be this hard, and that’s a good lesson to learn, but backing out now simply because were tired of this movie would be an immoral act of the gravest proportions, and stupid to boot.

Child’s Shirt

This is a child’s shirt found in one of those mass graves. You can read more about them at the Department of State website. There is much to be debated about what is to be done to see that mass graves are a thing of the past in Iraq. Giving up assures a future filled with them. That’s not partisan. That’s as obvious as anything could be. To use the failures of the Maliki government as a the moral lever to get us out of Iraq is truly one of the more absurd- and shamefully immoral- arguments I’ve ever heard. I know it’s made with conviction and with a sincere desire to save American lives. What about Iraqi lives? What about the women and children in these photos, so eagerly willing to look at the American photographer? I guarantee you someone will be digging up their shirt years from now if we fail them.

I don’t have to maintain that we’ve always done the right thing in Iraq. Clearly we haven’t. I don’t have to maintain that things are going wonderfully or easily. I never have done any of these things. What I have insisted upon is that we have a moral obligation to bequeath a reasonable peace upon the people of Iraq. We cannot win or lose through solely a militarily solution; but without our presence the political situation will completely fail and genocide and mass killing is simply assured. As a side effect, it will weaken greatly our national security and that of the region to the point that we will be forced to return- to an even bigger mess. Any other assessment is some kind of reverse-cake walk fantasy whereby we leave easily with no consequences to ourselves. Perhaps continuing to blame it all on George Bush will be of some consolation to the Democrats, but it will not mean a thing to the people of Iraq or the world. America will have failed to be America and the world will be the worse for it.

For every child that ended up in one of those graves, there are many who lost a parent. Some continue to lose parents as this war progresses. I heard an NPR piece about the orphanages recently. A child was interviewed who had trouble sleeping at night. Why? Because he was “afraid the terrorists would come”. I don’t believe he said anything about being afraid of the Americans. That’s because the Americans are the only thing standing between him and evil thugs who will continue in their murderous ways until successfully deterred.

In a world full of murder- the world the average Iraqi grew up in- the issue of trust has to be of the utmost importance. Who do you trust when your parents can be taken away at any moment? When you can be killed in front of them to teach them a lesson? When the terrorists can come for you if you are too friendly to the Americans or too much in favor of western things like an attractive haircut or dress? I can only imagine. But I’m sure you learn to cultivate the favor of the strong. Survival dictates it. And as strong as America is militarily, it is not strong politically in backing this War. It’s an outrageous festival of naricissim if I’ve ever seen it- masked in all sorts of fine sounding words and sentiments, but the underlying sentiment is there: sorry for the mistake but we’ve got to get going. That cannot give people confidence in us over there. It would be an over simplification to suggest that strong public opinion here would equal success there, but I think it unquestionably would make it easier or at least not hinder our effort. How can an Iraqi step forward and side with the Americans if half the Americans want to leave him to the terrorists? What would you do in that situation? What would you like America to do in that situation? I can’t say what I would do, but I think anyone who thinks they would want the Americans to leave sees the average Iraqi as wanting more bloodshed and less flowers in the garden and a normal life.

OK that felt good. Spend some time with the links and let me know what you think in the comments.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2007 8:54 am

    Hi Count,

    Your best ever; nothing to add, clarify, or criticize; you nailed it.

    Good to see you back! : – )

  2. May 20, 2007 1:46 pm

    Thanks again David. Sometimes giving up is theraputic for the writing.

  3. Tim C. permalink
    May 21, 2007 8:58 am

    Hi Dave:

    Got through reading the links and your posting here…

    And certainly agree with you on the grave outcome from an Iraqi failed state….genocide, regional unrest beyond Iraqi borders, etc… scary, terrible stuff.

    But that said, I read you as advocating that there is almost nothing worse than us leaving: that we should stay even if the Iraqi government itself refuses to do the things needed to avert an all out civil war.

    Iraq is a burning building, almost completely in flames.

    (I don’t think that analogy is too dire… it is close to “grave and deteriorating” language of the ISG report)

    We have 140-150 thousand American “firefighters” in the middle of that burning building and pretty much we all agree, those firefighters can do little more than SLIGHTLY effect the rate of the building’s burning, and that on their own, they cannot save the it.

    The entire US debate is all about this exact thing:
    How long to keep the firefighters in that burning building.

    And I’d say the one thing worse than leaving Iraq recklessly is staying recklessly and allowing the roof to cave in on our people. Put another way, the one thing worse than a failed Iraqi state is a failed state surrounding 150 thousand of our folks.

    I respect those whose opinion is: “It’s too late already, get our fighters out of the building.” They may be right.

    I respect those who say: “give the Malaki government a chance to prop up the building, but if they don’t, get out for there is no good we can do either way.” (I’m in that camp, as is Obama).

    I disagree with but respect the advice of those who say “The building is so important that we must stay in the burning building until the roof actually begins falling down on our people, and then we leave.” (I *THINK* this is your position).

    I disrespect and disagree with those who say “This building isn’t really burning so bad.” I do not see you arguing this last case.

    I guess the whole thing could be better served by better definitions. Here is a bit from the Christian Science Monitor:

    “If we can’t agree on present conditions, then it’s critical that we have tripwires at both ends of the effectiveness spectrum: one for success, and one for failure.

    The former is difficult to determine because it’s shifted considerably. In 2005, the White House defined victory in Iraq in three stages that culminate in a peaceful, united, stable, and secure partner in the war on terror. But just this month, President Bush appeared to lower the bar, saying: ‘Either we’ll succeed, or we won’t succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down….’

    Meanwhile, the tripwire for failure doesn’t seem to exist.

    Obviously, the United States must not share its failure guidelines with the enemy. But if such standards were crystal clear among America’s leaders, we would see much greater consensus in Washington…”

    So what would your definition of a “trip wire for failure” be?

  4. May 21, 2007 9:41 am

    “I disrespect and disagree with those who say “This building isn’t really burning so bad.” I do not see you arguing this last case. “

    Hi Tim C.,

    I’m sorry to make your “disrespect and disagree” list, but I feel the same way about those who think Iraq is a disaster. By any historical standard, and even any realistic standard, Iraq is mostly a success.

    Perhaps those who painted the rosy scenarios are partly to blame, but so are those who don’t understand an enemy who will sacrifice their own children to murder anyone who is not an Islamic Extremist.

    Obviously, at this point, the Islamic extremists don’t have the industrial backing similar to the two worst enemies of the United States in WWII; Germany and Japan. However, the estimated 100 million adherents almost matches the number of people who supported the governments of Germany and Japan during WWII. What the adherents of Islamic extremism lack in industrial backing is made up for in passion. In the end, the Germans and Japanese were not willing to die for their cause; Islamic extremists do not seem to be motivated by life and are more than willing to die for their cause.

    The number of Americans and innocent civilians lost in Iraq and Afghanistan is miniscule by historical standards. We should have a moving standard; technology, strategy, and patience, should result in fewer deaths in this struggle, but to think something significant could be accomplished without the loss of life is, well, very immature.

    It is very good that we have been able to isolate the battles to Iraq and Afghanistan; this gives us a tactical advantage. We should stay in Iraq for as long as the terrorists will fight us in Iraq, period. However, there will come a day when the terrorists will abandon Iraq and start to disperse to the rest of the world, causing damage where people of freedom are week, not strong as in Iraq. We may look back on 2003 – 2007 as the good ole days in the war on terror when people in Chicago, Boston, London, Paris, Toronto, Dallas, Los Angeles, Madrid, Sidney, etc. are being murdered by terrorists on a daily basis. Then you can truly say the building is burning, but it may be too late.

  5. Tim C. permalink
    May 21, 2007 11:28 am

    To be clear:

    “I’m sorry to make your ‘disrespect and disagree’ list, but I feel the same way about those who think Iraq is a disaster.”

    I don’t think Iraq is a disaster, but rather a disaster in the making, and that there may still be time to shore up the building, but that the troops alone can’t do it. Hence the description of it as a “burning building” not a demolished husk.

    And our guys are right in the middle of that burning building, bravely trying to keep things together.

    Hopefully it won’t come to this, but is there NO tripwire that you would have to pull them out, or would you simply wait for the roof to collapse?

  6. May 21, 2007 1:54 pm

    Hi again Tim C.,

    I agree with you that troops alone will not resolve all of the problems in Iraq or anywhere else and I also believe troops alone will not solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, but the lack of troops will surely lead to our defeat and the defeat of freedom.

    I’m not sure I understand your position. You think Iraq is heading for a disaster and that removing our troops will avoid a disaster? I need more detail to understand.

    In answer to your question, I believe when an enemy wants to kill or convert as many of our citizens as possible, we can fight the enemy on our terms, sparing as many lives as possible, or we can fight the enemy on their terms, sacrificing whatever lives happen to be sacrificed. Today, the fight in Iraq is on our terms and we should continue to fight as long as we are killing more of them then they are killing of us. The fight in Iraq is not about land and it is not about oil, although oil does play a part. The fight in Iraq is about an ideology that wants to restrict the freedom to believe in any God except Allah. The tool of this ideology is ruthless murder.

    If terrorists are killing more Americans than Americans are killing terrorist in Iraq then we should leave, but make no mistake about it, terrorism has to be fought against. I prefer fighting terrorists with the best trained American soldiers in Iraq than fighting terrorists with untrained civilians in our major cities.

  7. Tim C. permalink
    May 21, 2007 8:40 pm

    To your question:

    “I’m not sure I understand your position. You think Iraq is heading for a disaster and that removing our troops will avoid a disaster?”

    No, I’m suggesting that the situation our troops are in the middle of a country that is at a near-disaster state and that it is very unclear which way it is going yet. The vast majority of obervers left-right-and center agree on that diagnosis.

    And our troops are who are bravely in the middle of that mess trying to keep it together are much like firefighters bravely inside a burning building that could easily collapse upon them if things go worse. But they know that their work cannot shore up the building by itself. At best it only slows the burn. The vast majority of observers left-right-and center agree on that diagnosis too, I think.

    My question to you and Dave – and I think the entire debate of the war right now is over this – is what signals if any do you use as a “trip wire” of sorts that “the firefighters” have done all they can, and for their sake you get them out of a building that you judge will collapse with or without their being in the middle of it?

    If things go worse, which hopefully they won’t — Is the only “trip wire” that is a singal for us to get our soldiers out that of the “firey building” finally collapsing down around our troops?

  8. May 22, 2007 8:20 am

    Hi again Tim C.,

    Your question is based on a presumption I do not agree with. Reporters who have gone to Iraq and ventured out of the green zone have reported that life is normal and even prospering in many parts of Iraq.

    I hope I am wrong, but I don’t see a day when terrorism is defeated in Iraq. America and the world do not have the will at this point to defeat terrorism. I don’t see a burning building; I see wildfires that need to be extinguished and then move on the next flair up.

    Again, nothing would make me want to abandon Iraq unless we are losing more soldiers than we are killing terrorists. But to continue the analogy, the flair ups will be bigger and more dispersed throughout the world. I am satisfied that the best situation at this point is to contain the flair ups to Iraq and Afghanistan.

  9. Tim C. permalink
    May 22, 2007 9:20 pm

    Well, as an example of a far right, pro-iraq war neoconservative who disagrees with your relatively optimistic view of iraq as is Max Boot as of this as of a couple weeks ago:

    “Are we doomed [in Iraq]? Well, we may be doomed. I mean, I think what we’re doing now, certainly if I had to bet, I would say we’re probably going to fail. But I think there is a chance of success… I think it’s very long odds right now, but I think we have a chance to salvage an acceptable outcome…It hasn’t completely come apart, despite all the daily threats and all the rest of it. ”

    http://www.cfr.org/publication/13302/

    I actually agree with max boot there…a statement I don’t often make. Iraq is not yet a disaster but one in the making…not yet completely crashing down, but threatening it. With our troops in the middle of it all.

    In such a case, it does make sense to have clear ways to judge both progress and failure… In your case, I read you saying your only tripwire would be “if we are losing more soldiers than we are killing of terrorists.”

    The insurgency has grown to be about 20 to 30 thousand members, and the Al Qaeda presence in Iraq is estimated at about 1000 people or so. So if by “terrorist” you mean Al Qaeda, then we may already be at your tripwire losing more troops per week than we are killing Al Qaeda terrorists per week.

  10. May 23, 2007 8:54 am

    Hi again Tim C.,

    I would expect Max Boot and many others to know more about Iraq than I know.

    I also expect Senator Bob Kerrey to know more than me?

    Here is his analysis: The Left’s Iraq Muddle
    Yes, it is central to the fight against Islamic radicalism.

    My opinion is not based on the success or failure of any particular strategy in forming a government in Iraq and maintaining security in Iraq. My opinion is that we are going to have to fight, and often kill, terrorists somewhere. Iraq seems to be as good as place as any. Your numbers show we are successful at drawing our enemy to Iraq to fight on our terms.

  11. May 23, 2007 9:06 am

    The link isn’t working. Here is the URL:

    http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010107

  12. May 23, 2007 11:34 am

    Glad to see some genuine discussion on this thread guys. It’s important to me and I am grateful for the respectful tone of it all. I have been working non-stop for the past few days- no lunch breaks, taking work home, going to bed at 1AM- having a great time but unable to participate much yet. I just read all the recent comments this morning. I hope Rob and Andrew chime in on this one too.

    Quickly- Tim I think that your assessment is much too dire. What is in flames is public opinion in this country, and the only thing in danger is the political fortunes of those who still support the war. Without claiming that things are rosy, but rather a complicated mix of good and bad I can still claim that the risk of danger in staying is worth the value to the Iraqi people in the short term and the security interests of the American people long term. You have done abolutely nothing to adress the securtity implications of leaving vs. staying, but only framed the argument in terms of “saving our trooops”.

    Tell you what- most of our troops don’t want saving. They want your support of the mission- the one thing you cannot give.

    When I get all mushy on the troops, I want to support them more. Asghar rails. When you get all mushy on the troops, you want them to leave. Asghar is silent.

    Even more interestingly, you have mentioned NOTHING about he Iraqi people. Neither Asghar. I thought they were your prime concern?

    Your shorter position: sucks to be them. If not, clarify for me please.

    I’ll say it untill I’m blue in the face: we cannot be defeated militarily in Iraq. Neither can we win militarily. It is a matter of political will both here and in Iraq that matters. The Al-Queda types cannot do much more than pick off soldiers a few at a time and attack unarmned civilians. These are not military actions. They are political.

    What would you say to the smiling Iraqi children? Most of Iraq is not in flames. If we leave it will be. You tell yourself that in can’t get any worse, but it can. I don’t see you really grappling with that at all.

    Sucks to be them.

    BTW, Max Boot is also the one who supplied the letter from the soldier at the top of this post. Read it again.

    I am tired of defending against claims of being a rah-rah supporter of the war. It is a complex affair. I sill support it despite the risk and cost. What about the Iraqi’s caught in the middle of all this? What do you think of them? That was the whole point of this post.

  13. May 23, 2007 4:53 pm

    ”Comment on this, please:”

    People who choose to remain ignorant will most likely remain ignorant.

    Periodicals that choose to report perceptions and refuse to report truths will most likely remain rarely read and never taken seriously.

    Sorry Rob, I couldn’t resist. I will leave you alone now! : – )

  14. Peter Penn permalink
    May 23, 2007 5:02 pm
  15. Tim C. permalink
    May 23, 2007 10:03 pm

    Dave writes: “Tim I think that your assessment is much too dire.”

    Well when you have the ISG stating “Grave and Deteriorating” and Max Boot of all people saying basically the same thing that the chances of creating a stable Iraq are “a long shot” that is “probobly going to fail” I feel comfortable that my analogy is a valid one.

    And I’m trying to react to your exact post, that says “nothing would be a worse mistake than leaving.” I’m saying that actually one thing would be worse than a failed state in Iraq, a failed state in Iraq with 160K US troops stuck in the middle of it.

    I THINK you’d agree with me on that, if you don’t agree on how close we are to that failed state…

    and you wrote: “Even more interestingly, you have mentioned NOTHING about he Iraqi people. Neither Asghar. I thought they were your prime concern?”

    In my analogy, the burning building represents the Iraqi state…and the troops are bravely trying to slow the damage to the state and it’s people.

    And my position was not “suck to be them” but this:

    “I respect those who say: ‘give the Malaki government a chance to prop up the building, but if they don’t, get out for there is no good we can do either way.’ (I’m in that camp, as is Obama).”

    In shorter form: it is do everything you can (but recognizing most of what needs to happen needs to be done not by US but THEM) and that if the Iraqi state fails, get out BEFORE the roof caves in on you along with everyone else.

    Isn’t that what you’d believe too, perhaps just with a different “tripwire” for failure…

    BTW, I’ll ask again, what is your “tripwire” for failure in Iraq?

  16. May 23, 2007 11:41 pm

    Rob- That’s it? What do you think about it?

    I think that in terms of Muslims intentionally targeted for death, Muslims are doing a fine job on their own. Does the survey ask that question? Why is it an outrage for US soldiers to defend a legitimately elected government against terrorist attacks and other outside hostilities and not for alQueda types to slaughter innocent women and children?

    Large parts of the Islamic world have been at war with US for most of my life. That’s the real story. We have every right to respond. No one is carpet bombing cities or rounding up people in gas chambers. In fact, our response has really been quite measured under the circumstances.

    I hope that you can contribute more to the discussion!

  17. May 26, 2007 5:35 am

    or would you simply wait for the roof to collapse?

    I would say to you that when failure is considered as a viable option, then that is the most likely outcome. Planning for failure is what losers do.

  18. Tim C. permalink
    May 26, 2007 8:22 am

    Hi Purple Avenger:

    Hope you recognize that I’m not advocating Iraq becoming a failed state as “viable option.” But only that we need some metrics to see where we are.
    Metrics or “benchmarks” that indicate when progress is happening, as well as key metrics of benchmarks that show that things are going south.

    To go back to my original analogy: firefighters in the middle of a burning building aren’t “losers” when they evaluate what are the key signs that the roof is about to give way.

  19. May 26, 2007 9:02 am

    Tim-
    Let’s try another analogy, that of a sinking ship. In olden days, people with honor would go down with it while the women and children escaped. We, who have made promises to the Iraqi people, and whose moral burden it is to provide safety and order (at least in part) owe it to the innocent to provide them a better future. For someone who is so concerned with a just war, you seem curiously uninterested in a just peace. For someone who worships a self-sacrificing God you seem to consider any sacrifice on the part of our soldiers as essentially not worth it. That’s what I hear you saying.

    You are not just advocating metrics. You are not saying failure is an option. You, along with Harry Reid, are saying that the war is lost and we should leave “for there is no good we can do either way”.

    No good either way? I just don’t think you or the Democratic leadership has really thought that through. As you said:

    I disagree with but respect the advice of those who say “The building is so important that we must stay in the burning building until the roof actually begins falling down on our people, and then we leave.”

    The building isn’t just Iraq: it’s the future of the Middle East; the future of American credibility (no, not completely shot, just suffering under adversity) and the future of radical Muslim groups, espcially al Queda.

    The fatalistic “there’s nothing we can do” attitude is not totally unfounded of course- it will take a real effort of will on the part of the American people to prevail. It also entails, I think, the idea that there will be nothing we have to do in the future. We can end our involvement in Iraq, be we will not end war. You can try to shove the moral responsibility off of the US and onto the Maliki government, but the moral failure is ultimately ours.

    It seems that you got your benchmarks yesterday. Just no withdrawl date. Your favored candidate voted against that bill. I think it may be fair to say that withdrawl was always the prize…

  20. May 26, 2007 10:36 am

    firefighters in the middle of a burning building aren’t “losers” …

    Yea they are, because now the fire will spread to surrounding buildings when they abandon this one.

    We have one option here. Make it right. The fully amortized price of any other outcome will make the cost of putting things right seem today seem like a pittance in the future.

    Whenever people are faced with a pay me now or pay me later situation, deferring until later always costs more. The thought of having an AQ and/or Iranian meddling haven with the strategic location and resources of Iraq should scare the crap out of everyone.

    All the past BS about “wars for oil” will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  21. Tim C. permalink
    May 29, 2007 9:16 am

    Hi Dave:

    I think this is a case where you are either not getting where I’m coming from because you missed some pretty clearly worded statements, or you just don’t believe I am telling you the truth. Not sure which.

    You wrote:

    “You are not just advocating metrics. You are not saying failure is an option. You, along with Harry Reid, are saying that the war is lost and we should leave “for there is no good we can do either way.”

    I think I was pretty clear that this is NOT my position. I do not see Iraq descending further into a failed state being a “viable option” but rather as a “worst case scenario.” I am not in the “it’s lost already, get out now” crowd, although I acknowledge they may be right.

    But let me re-repeat my stance:

    “I respect those who say: ‘give the Malaki government a chance to prop up the building, but if they don’t, get out for there is no good we can do either way.’ (I’m in that camp, as is Obama).”

    In shorter form: it is do everything you can (but recognizing most of what needs to happen needs to be done not by US but THEM) and that if the Iraqi state fails, get out BEFORE the roof caves in on you along with everyone else.

    “It seems that you got your benchmarks yesterday. Just no withdrawl date. Your favored candidate voted against that bill. I think it may be fair to say that withdrawl was always the prize…”

    I don’t think it is fair at all to say that Obama never really cared about success, or supporting the Malaki government, but only really wanted withdrawl.

    (BTW, it continues to amaze me how generous in your opinion you are to conservative public figures like Falwell, Courtier, and The Hammer, but how you pretty immediately jump to the worst possible interpretation of actions of folks like Obama)

    Benchmarks with no accountability to them, with “penalties” that Bush can waive at will, will do no good at all in pressuring the Iraqi government to compromise and do what will make for a success in Iraq. And this was why he voted against it.

    As he put it: “With my vote today, I am saying to the President that enough is enough. We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly.”

    Three of four unanswered questions:

    A. Do you really favor a let our 160K troops all “go down with the ship” policy for defining where the “tripwire” for failure is? I’d doubt it but that is the closest you’ve given me to an answer.

    (And you do realize that in the naval myth ONLY captains go down with the ship, to encourage their makeing wise choices…So would that analogy would mean Bush, Cheney, Rice, Feith and Rumsfeld should go down with the ship in this case, not the troops)

    B. As to the “planning for failure is what losers do” and taking worst case scenarios into account is actually making “failure a viable option…” I think in this one case, we actually do have a relatively direct word on this from Scripture. From Jesus himself, no less:

    “…what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” …Luke 14

    Am I wrong in reading that as Jesus saying any ruler worth his title plans not just for an unlikely come-from-behind success, but also soberly plans out for worst case scenarios?

  22. Tim C. permalink
    May 29, 2007 9:21 am

    Oops, Dave does WP allow you to turn on a “preview” function on…for comments?

    I got a few of my blockquotes tags messed up in the above post. But hopefully it still makes some sense…

  23. May 31, 2007 12:13 am

    Sorry Tim, no preview here at wordpress.com. Perhaps someday I’ll spring for my own server.

    Good thread everyone, it’s a record number of comments for me on a post that was very important to me. Very gratifying. I hope it doesn’t stop here.

    Obama: the thing about him is he says he never would have voted for the war in the first place. I take from that now that he’s never really believed we could win. I don’t think you have ever really believed that either BTW. For what it’s worth though, I think thats a legitimate call. I disagreee with it, but I think the place to disagree with it was at the beginning. In that you’ve been consistent. I’ll give you that. I also take Obama’s hindisight judgement with a grain of salt. Public sentiment was strong for the war, and the WMD evidence looked pretty good at the time (just ask John Ewards).

    Please understand though that this is not to say that I think you or Obama are rooting for defeat. Not even Asghar, lowest of the commie pinko weakling low does that!

    Tripwire: we’re a long way from my idea of a tripwire. Strange use of the term BTW. In short, I would look for a rival government that can provide legitimate services like sanitation and power (not just mafia-style “protection”). I would look for the ability to mount large-scale attacks on coalition troops and win.

    What we have presently is an enemy who can pick off a few troops at a time using primitive weapons, or murder large numbers of civilians with the same. These kinds of attacks are not really true military operations. They are fundamentally political- terrorism used to change public opinion, especially yours.

    You may discount it as mere partisan boilerplate, but I really do believe that our will is an important weapon in this war. If the Democrats had really demonstrated a will to win, I would be much easier on them. But again, not wanting to win and wanting to lose are two different things. Not very different, but enough for weaselly politicians.

    And yes Tim a ruler will plan for worse case scenarios he just won’t announce it to the world. Trust me, people are thinking about all the options. Just because it isn’t the subject of a press release doesn’t mean it’s not happening!

  24. Tim C. permalink
    May 31, 2007 8:31 am

    Hey Dave:

    You wrote:

    “Obama: the thing about him is he says he never would have voted for the war in the first place. I take from that now that he’s never really believed we could win….I also take Obama’s hindisight judgment with a grain of salt.”

    It wasn’t “hindsight” judgment. Here are excerpts from a key Obama speech in 2002:

    “I don’t oppose all wars.

    What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne….

    That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

    Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

    He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

    But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

    I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

    I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

    So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

    You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn’t simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.

    Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.

    The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not – we will not – travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.”

    It’s amazing to look back on that pre-invasion speech and see how right he was and what good judgment that was.

    You wrote: “Tripwire: we’re a long way from my idea of a tripwire. ”

    Which is? What signs would indicate that this point had been crossed?

    “What we have presently is an enemy who can pick off a few troops at a time using primitive weapons, or murder large numbers of civilians with the same. These kinds of attacks are not really true military operations. They are fundamentally political- terrorism used to change public opinion, especially yours.”

    Not so sure this basic description is accurate.

    We WISH we only had one ENEMY in iraq. It really isn’t “us” vs. “them” anymore. The insurgency, the shia and sunni killings and counter killings, the militia based death squads on both sides, the intra-sunni warfare and the intra-sunni warfare, not to mention just lawless criminal gangs, are all our “enemies.” See Patraeus calling the current Iraq situation: “the most complex and challenging I have ever seen.”

    You wrote: “These kinds of attacks are not really true military operations. They are fundamentally political- terrorism used to change public opinion…not really true military operations.”

    And I don’t think the violence in Iraq is simply annoying symbolic acts, only to effect public opinion but relatively unimpactful otherwise. 4 million displaced Iraqis, 2 million of them who have left the country. Roughly 50% unemployment (imagine if the US had 50% unemployment for 3 years), thousands of dead, tourtured, and many thousands radicalized by the violence. It is about literally, not sybolically, keeping the Iraqi government from being able to make the compromises that would lead to peace.

    From the UK political think tank Chathamhouse:

    “There is not ‘one’ civil war, nor ‘one’ insurgency, but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities in today’s Iraq. Within this warring society, the Iraqi government is only one among many ‘state-like’ actors, and is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life. It is now possible to argue that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation.” These are some of the key findings of Accepting Realities in Iraq a new Briefing Paper written by Dr Gareth Stansfield and published today by Chatham House.

    http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/index.php?id=189&pid=397

    Next we do agree that you do not go to war with your soldiers you go to war with your nation. And that national will is a factor.

    I think Bush missed a huge opportunity when he snubbed the Iraq Study Group bi-partisan plan, and went into escalation mode. I think he could have gotten the entire nation behind the ISG recommendations. There was a brief window.

    As with past scenarios (such as when he ignored Dems calls for more troops early on), he likely will end up doing what was ISG suggested but too late to make a difference. We’ll see, I hope not.

    Lastly, I hope you are right and quietly Bush and team are planning for worst case scenarios. But seeing as they didn’t plan for ANY of them so far and have publicly stated that “Plan B is to make Plan A work,” I have less confidence than you in that matter….

  25. May 31, 2007 11:51 am

    Tim- Great comment!! Your best ever I think.

    So it’s true (as I said) that Obama never thought we could win this war. He’s been consistent and he may turn out to be right. By “hindsight” though, I meant this: had he actually been in a position to vote on the war, he might have acted differently. I think there is a difference when you are actually resonsible for the results of your vote rather than having a mere position on it. (Do you have a link for that speech BTW?)

    The thing is, Congress authorized military action. They, and the country in general, considered the evidence and made a decision. We were all witness to that. John Edwards, who was a member of the Senate intel comittee, was long saying what a threat Sadaam was and what a good idea it was to get rid of him. There was the Regime change act. All in all, I think it was a reasonable decision to make. That’s the main claim I want to make- it was reasonable. Not the only possible conclusion, but entirely rational. On that we probably have to agree to disagree.

    I don’t mean to be fillipant about the damage done to the Iraqi people. I just mean to point out that in general, the fighting is more of a ragtag nature, like gang warefare on a national level. They are incredibly determined. There are indeed seveal layers of conflict. I just don’t see how removing troops at this juncture will help the political or security situation get better.

    You go on an on about the ISG, but it did recommend a troop surge to improve safety in Bagdhad. I think it’s offensive to call it “escalation” and I think it’s silly to say if Bush doesn’t support all the recommendations then it’s like he’s done none of them. It may have been a bi-partisan group, but that doesn’t mean every word needs to be implemented as written.

    Gotta work but thanks for the hard work. It does help me understand some things better.

  26. Tim C. permalink
    May 31, 2007 6:00 pm

    Hi Dave:

    You wrote: “So it’s true (as I said) that Obama never thought we could win this war.”

    Only if you misconstrue “Hey we shouldn’t jump into that pit of poisonous snakes when our real enemies are over there” as “I don’t think we can beat those snakes.” …but I think that would be an unfair twisting of his sentiments. However, you are right about this: he’s been consistent in his options. See here: http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/iraq/

    And the full speech is over here: http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/warspeech.pdf

    About Bush and the ISG recommendations, as we discussed before he ignored the “heart and soul” of them (direct talks with neighbors, move troops out of combat, phased withdrawl) but now seems to be coming around — albeit likely too late.

    Many are already speculating he might try to make the Baker Hamilton recommendations his Plan B.

    President Bush said publicly last Thursday what his top aides have been discussing privately for weeks. He talked about a transition to “a different configuration” in Iraq after the surge of U.S. troops is completed this summer. When pressed on whether he was talking about a post-surge Plan B, Bush answered: “Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker-Hamilton…”

    To which Matt Yglesias I think rightly points out a pattern:

    “It seems to me that to a very large extent we’ve gotten to the sorry position we’re in precisely through the Bush administration’s longtime habit of doing the right thing 6-12 months too late.

    Sometimes, things just can’t be done too late. I keep trying to construct an analogy involving boats going over waterfalls, but the point is this. At each phase of the venture, suggests have been made of ways the US could lower our goals in the hopes of achieving something rather than just letting things get worse and worse and worse forever.

    The Bush administration then dismisses these critics as unduly pessimistic and things further deteriorate. Then, critics step-up their level of pessimism in response to the deterioration. At that point, the administration says the critics are being too pessimistic and adopts the policy recommendations they rejected months ago. But thanks to the continued deterioration of the situation, those old recommendations don’t work anymore.”

  27. June 2, 2007 5:22 pm

    look back on that pre-invasion speech and see how right he was and what good judgment that was.

    A nuclear armed Saddam and nuclear armed Iranian nuts, with a dash of AQ surrogates doing all the dirty work sounds like extra large popcorn and Jujube time.

  28. Tim C. permalink
    June 3, 2007 7:18 am

    “A nuclear armed Saddam and nuclear armed Iranian nuts, with a dash of AQ surrogates doing all the dirty work…”

    Which of course, would not have happened. The duelfer CIA report showed that containment it turns out had worked well….it had ended Sadaam’s wmd stockpiles AND PROGRAMS TO BUILD THEM since 1991. And his ability to restart it was “weakening.” Containment worked.

    Barack’s judgement was right:

    “But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

  29. June 5, 2007 12:05 pm

    On what basis did Obama “know” these things? What facts on the ground led him to this conclusion? Why did so many Democrats disagree with his assessment?

    Obama was agaqinst the war on the basis he was against it. Which is fine. But to credit his hunch with forsight on the basis of subsequent verification a circumstance of luck, nothing else. You say that facts are important to you – and I believe that that are- but the fact is Obama made this judgment without authority or consequence. There was no credible discussion of Sadaam being harmless and contained. The question was what to do about him.

    It is easy to fantasize about alternative histories based on other choices made. The truth is, we don’t really know what would have happened had Sadaam remained in power, and the belief he was contained eventually would very likely have led to a situation where sanctions and inspections were lifted. The very same report you cite I believe also stated that Sadaam would definitely try to restart those programs.

    Even some of Sadaam’s generals believed that they had WMD. I think it’s more honest to say that you preferred taking the risk that Sadaam was “in the box” vs. the risks of removing him. Most people disagreeed at the time, based on the evidence available, including a great many Democrats. To make out the belief that Sadaam was armed and dangerous as some sort of preposterous fantasy is in itself a fantasy.

  30. Tim C. permalink
    June 6, 2007 9:55 pm

    “On what basis did Obama “know” these things? What facts on the ground led him to this conclusion?”

    Good judgement

    “Why did so many Democrats disagree with his assessment?”

    Bad judgement.

    “The truth is, we don’t really know what would have happened had Sadaam remained in power.”

    True, but we do know now that Obama’s good judgement was right. He would have been no threat.

    “…and the belief he was contained eventually would very likely have led to a situation where sanctions and inspections were lifted.”

    False. That would only have happened if the US did not show leadership in pushing for tigheter more rigorous inspections.

    “To make out the belief that Sadaam was armed and dangerous as some sort of preposterous fantasy is in itself a fantasy.”

    Didn’t say that.

    Just said the belief that Sadaam was armed was a bad judgment. And one that we could have confirmed as bad has we listened to people like Obama and let the inspectors finish their thing instead of invading.

    Tim

  31. June 6, 2007 11:10 pm

    Wow! On the basis of <i> no facts at all </i> just “good judgement” Obama was right! Does he have any stock tips he’s sharing?
    The truth is, he didn’t know for sure. Nobody knew for sure either way- but most everyone agreed <i>on the basis of the facts </i> that it was a sound judgment.
    Now you didn’t say that it was a fantasy this time, but you sure have made that case at length at other times. And not having WMD is not the same thing as not being a threat.
    Whatever happened to the WMD Sadaam did have, they were either a) secretly destroyed or b) never existed in the first place. It is almost impossible to prove a negative. Sadaam was obviously not trustworthy. To sane eyes, it looked like he was successfully hiding them, and it would have looked like that to whatever end there was. At the end of “tighter more rigorous inspections” Sadaam would have had every right to say he was innocent- and don’t you make that very claim- of any ability, intent or violation of sanctions prohibiting making WMD. He already had kicked out inspectors for several years. They would have left again empty handed – according your repeated and vigorous claims- and declared him no threat. You declare him no threat to this day. Under what possible pretext could inspections continue? Think it through.
    Sanctions would have been lifted because as you say <i> he was not threat </i>. Then he would have proceeded to arm himself once again, courtesy of the oil-for-food program- which by the way sucked any credibility of the UN away for a generation and I have never heard much about on your side of the aisle- and we’d back at this crossroads again in due time. His regime would not gently fade away but be passed on to his even more crazed sons- or an even worse civil war/anarchy than the present one would have began, drawing all the region into the conflict.
    Actions made on hunches, despite the lack of evidence to support it, are exactly what you’ve been arguing against all along.

  32. tim c permalink
    June 17, 2007 12:18 pm

    Sorry for the abbreviated responses above….work is just sucking all the air out of the room…

    a. of course it was “good judgement based on the facts available at the time.” Obama said as much in a later interview:

    MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

    STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

    b. you wrote:

    “At the end of “tighter more rigorous inspections” Sadaam would have had every right to say he was innocent- and don’t you make that very claim- of any ability, intent or violation of sanctions prohibiting making WMD. He already had kicked out inspectors for several years. They would have left again empty handed – according your repeated and vigorous claims- and declared him no threat. You declare him no threat to this day. Under what possible pretext could inspections continue? Think it through.”

    You mix two different things: sanctions and inspections. Sanctions would have continued as long as the US would lead the world in maintaining them.

    Inspections pretext were based on a UN security mandates that were in place and ongoing since the 90’s and would have continued to be in place as long as Sadaam or someone like him were in power. And again US leadership could have kept these inspections going…to the point of threatening to invade if Sadaam kicked them out again.

    c. you wrote that obama was just showing a lucky guess based on no real facts.
    “There was no credible discussion of Sadaam being harmless and contained. ”

    Sure there was, but not one that the whitehouse listend to. But the doubts and the evidence was there that the claims of iraq as wmd or imminent threat were there. For instance:

    Sept. 2002
    “Senior U.S. officials with access to top-secret intelligence on Iraq say they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability….But there is no new intelligence that indicates the Iraqis have made significant advances in their nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programs, said a U.S. intelligence official.”
    http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special_packages/iraq/intelligence/11922692.htm

    Jan 2003:
    “US Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Questioned… It was by far the most prominent, detailed assertion by the White House of recent Iraqi efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. But according to government officials and weapons experts, the claim now appears to be seriously in doubt.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A35360-2003Jan23&notFound=true

    March 2003:
    “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged — and in some cases disproved — by the United Nations, European governments and even U.S. intelligence reports.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A42517-2003Mar17?language=printer

    But in the end, Barack wasn’t definitively saying Saddam was NO threat, but that the evidence was lacking, and the Inspectors needed more time to work. That it was unreasonable and a dumb war, to invade when just waiting for the work to be done.
    As Fareed Zakaria wrote in 2006:

    “…one is struck by how, at the end, the United States had become uninterested in diplomacy, viewing it as an obstacle. It seems clear that with a little effort Washington could have worked through international structures and institutions to achieve its goals in Iraq. Blix and ElBaradei were proving to be tough, honest taskmasters. Every country — yes, even France — was coming around to the view that the inspections needed to go on for only another month or two, that benchmarks could have been established, and if the Iraqis failed these tests the Security Council would authorize war. But in a fashion that is almost reminiscent of World War I, the Pentagon’s military timetables drove American diplomacy. The weather had become more important than international legitimacy….”

  33. June 20, 2007 12:23 pm

    Tim- Only the last link works. But don’t worry about it. We’ll never agree on this.

    I maintain that the evidence over the years was overwhelming that Sadaam was a threat to the US. The information was indeed murky, as all intelligence will be, but given Sadaams past behavior, and the present reality of 9/11, removing him was consistent with our foreign policy.

    If the Bush administration ignored contrary evidence, so did most everyone else. That fact, now trying to be airbrushed out of existence, is what disturbs me the most.

    That Obama was right about WMD, and Bush wrong, was an accident of history. Subsequent info has come out since these articles that I think strengthened the rightness of thinking Sadaam was purusing nuclear weapons. The British stood by the much contested “16 words” on Bush’s state of the union adress. Etc. Ad naseum.

    You miss my point about inspections. On what basis could the US continue to insist on sanctions? Eventually the would have crumbled as the lure of oil deals would have made it too hard to continue.

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