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Tigerhawk:Wishful Thinking All Around

July 12, 2007

I know. It’s bad for Bush and the War right now. Tigerhawk is asking all the right questions, and I’d like to direct what meager traffic I could to this post regarding wishful thinking on all sides, where he piggy-backs on this Washington Post editorial:

We agree with Mrs. Clinton that President Bush has been guilty of “wishful thinking” on Iraq. When he was promoting his surge policy at the beginning of this year, we said Iraq’s political leadership was unlikely to accept compromises any time soon. It was predictable, therefore, that Mr. Bush’s benchmarks would not be met and that within a few months the policy he put forward without popular or congressional support would become even more difficult to sustain.

But his wishful thinking can’t excuse, even if it helps explain, the wishful thinking on the other side. Advocates of withdrawal would like to believe that Afghanistan is now a central front in the war on terror but that Iraq is not; believing that doesn’t make it so. They would like to minimize the chances of disaster following a U.S. withdrawal: of full-blown civil war, conflicts spreading beyond Iraq’s borders, or genocide. They would have us believe that someone or something will ride to the rescue: the United Nations, an Islamic peacekeeping force, an invigorated diplomatic process. They like to say that by withdrawing U.S. troops, they will “end the war.”

Conditions in Iraq today are terrible, but they could become “way, way worse,” as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, a career Foreign Service officer, recently told the New York Times. If American men and women were dying in July in a clearly futile cause, it would indeed be immoral to wait until September to order their retreat. But given the risks of withdrawal, the calculus cannot be so simple. The generals who have devised a new strategy believe they are making fitful progress in calming Baghdad, training the Iraqi army and encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions. Before Congress begins managing rotation schedules and ordering withdrawals, it should at least give those generals the months they asked for to see whether their strategy can offer some new hope.

See you there.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2007 1:15 pm

    Bad, compared to what?

    We have spent a lot of $. We have lost few lives. Iraq has a new government, about as good as Brazil’s or Argentina’s. We get a lot of bad press, but I’m not seeing much bad effect internationally. AQ gets respectful press but has had tremendous losses. We don’t like for things to go on long because it makes us feel like the world is collapsing, but if this went on for another 5-10 years it would still be far better than average compared to most wars.

    Think Big Picture here. Even with the confidence, lives, and status we lost in Vietnam, it did succeed in containing the Soviet Union, albeit poorly. As a stalling mechanism, it worked, now that we know that implosion was possible with pressure a decade or so later.

  2. July 13, 2007 1:21 pm

    Info: I leave the 18th for Transylvania – a wedding in Marghita – so I won’t be stopping by again until August.

    I will try again to drink palinka, but the stuff is vile. Especially the stuff the babushkas are selling in 2 liter Fanta bottles for 6RON. [shiver]

  3. July 13, 2007 1:30 pm

    Thanks for stopping by AVI. Knock back some Type O for the Count while you’re there!

    Bad for public opinion of Bush and the War. Democrats pushing for withdrawl on a weekly basis. All as the facts on the ground are better than they’ve been in a long, long while. It absolutely blows my mind, the willful blindness of the “reality based” crowd.

  4. July 13, 2007 9:30 pm

    Bad, compared to what?

    Grenada and Panama probably.

  5. July 14, 2007 10:24 am

    Bad, compared to what?

    Make believe!

  6. Tim C. permalink
    July 15, 2007 12:15 am

    Here are exerpts from a recent Freidman post:

    It would seem like hardly wishful thinking here…curious what you think of this former Iraq War supporter’s current stance.

    “We must not kid ourselves: our real choices in Iraq are either all in or all out — with the exception of Kurdistan. If those are our only real choices, then we need to look clearly at each.

    Staying in means simply containing the Iraqi civil war, but at the price of Americans and Iraqis continuing to die, and at the price of the U.S. having no real leverage on the parties inside or outside of Iraq to negotiate a settlement, because everyone knows we’re staying so they can dither. Today, U.S. soldiers are making the maximum sacrifice so Iraqi politicians can hold to their maximum positions.

    Getting out, on the other hand, means more ethnic, religious and tribal killings all across Iraq. It will be one of the most morally ugly scenes you can imagine — no less than Darfur. You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door. We need to take with us everyone who helped us and wants out, and give green cards to as many Iraqis as possible.

    But getting out has at least four advantages.

    First, no more Americans will be dying while refereeing a civil war. Second, the fear of an all-out civil war, as we do prepare to leave, may be the last best hope for getting the Iraqis to reach an 11th-hour political agreement. Third, as the civil war in Iraq plays out, it could, painfully, force the realignment of communities on the ground that may create a more stable foundation upon which to build a federal settlement.

    Fourth, we will restore our deterrence with Iran. Tehran will no longer be able to bleed us through its proxies in Iraq, and we will be much freer to hit Iran — should we ever need to — once we’re out. Moreover, Iran will by default inherit management of the mess in southern Iraq, which, in time, will be an enormous problem for Tehran.

    For all these reasons, I prefer setting a withdrawal date, but accompanying it with a last-ditch U.N.-led — not U.S. — diplomatic effort to get the Iraqi parties to resolve their political differences. If they can, then any withdrawal can be postponed. If they can’t agree — even with a gun to their heads about to go off — then staying is truly pointless and leaving by a set date is the only option.

    “It is one thing to try to break up a fight between two people who disagree; it is another thing to try to break up a riot,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy expert at Johns Hopkins. “You just get sucked into the middle.”

    We need to determine — now, today — whether this is a fight that can be resolved or a riot that we need to build a wall around and wait until it exhausts itself.

  7. Tim C. permalink
    July 15, 2007 12:26 am

    One ohther correction, this time for AVI… You wrote:

    “Iraq [now has] has a new government, about as good as Brazil’s or Argentina’s”

    Nope, and not even close:

    Economist magazine in 2007 studied the countries of the world and ranked them in a democratic level index, with 1 being highest, and 167 being worst, as expected this went to North Korea.

    Well, Argentina scored at 54, and Brazil at 42. Not bad.

    The current Iraq now score 111, right near Haiti and Kergystan (who were just above them) and Egypt and Pakistan (who were just a bit worse.)

    You can see the methods and the formulas that went into their score here:

    So Your sentence should have read:

    “Iraq [now has] has a new government, about as good as Pakistan or Hatti”

    Just trying to help out.

  8. July 15, 2007 5:25 pm

    ranked them in a democratic level index

    Which of course is the ONLY POSSIBLE WAY to rank a government, right?

  9. July 16, 2007 8:59 am

    Tim C, thank you for your reasonable reply.

    I have liked much of what Friedman has written, but there is a consistent pattern to his thinking: he researches something extensively and comes to a reasonable opinion that is different from liberal orthodoxy (not that it’s necessarily conservative, mind you). Over time, he gradually reverts to something very near to liberal orthodoxy. I have some speculations why that is, but guessing the motives of others is always risky.

    In this instance, his current analysis leaves out the effect of leaving or staying on our future ability to convince allies and enemies we are willing to see something through. This seems to me an enormous omission.

    As to the Iraqi government, I may have overshot somewhat with Brazil and Argentina, but not so much as one might think. Both of those SA countries have seen recent political improvements, which I knew but wasn’t thinking much of. I pulled two fairly randomly and chose badly. Had I chose Bolivia or Ecuador I would have been nearer the mark. Also, one entire category was not rated and Iraq given a zero in the Economist’s index. If we can leave things in relative peace, it is corruption that is going to be the biggest problem for Iraq. That usually is destabilizing to democracy. But she would hardly be alone in the world with that problem. Almost two decades out from communism, Romania still has significant problems in that area, but we don’t consider Romania a threat to regional stability.

    My more general point is that Iraq does not have to become Switzerland for the overall mission to be a success.

  10. Tim C. permalink
    July 18, 2007 3:31 pm


    Yep, I agree that how we act in Iraq will deeply effect how future allies and enemies see us. I’d add though that “whether we stick to something once begun” isn’t the only metric our allies will use in evaluating our actions, although clearly it will be one.

    And I too think Friedman is an interesting voice on Iraq, not because I always agree with him either. I like that he was so clearly a support of the Iraq war as originally a good idea – unlike myself – but yet also seems sober about where we are today, and the very tough choices at hand.

    His statement “We need to determine — now, today — whether this is a fight that can be resolved or a riot that we need to build a wall around and wait until it exhausts itself” …put the choice we face in Iraq as a nation in as clear terms as I’ve heard.

    I quoted the Economy Democracy index because I though the original spirit of Dave’s quote was bemoaning “wishful thinking” on all sides of the Iraq debate. And comparing today’s Iraqi government to Brazil and Argentina seemed like wishful thinking to me.

    And in your new choices of Bolivia or Ecuador as comparisons to Iraq, I assume you mean a future Iraq, assuming the government gains control of he country and qwells the sectarian strife. Because, today both Bolivia (at 81) and Equador (92) score MUCH higher than today’s Iraqi government as well.

    Again, according to the Economist, when we think of the Iraqi government as is today, think of Haiti, Armenia, Jordan, or Rawanda – all of whom are all just a few points away.

    And Purple Avenger: the other thing I liked about the “democracy index” is that it was based on more than just “do people vote.” So it did measure countries functional government by a wide spectrum of issues. Here is what they indexed:

    The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index is based on five categories:

    Electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

    The five categories are interrelated and form a coherent conceptual whole. The condition of having free and fair competitive elections, and satisfying related aspects of political freedom, is clearly the basic requirement of all definitions. All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital component of what is often called “liberal democracy.”

    I agree with your point that a Switzerland-like Iraq need not be the only acceptable goal, and in fact, right now most people would accept a relatively stable Shiite Theocracy with little real democracy as fine by comparison with what we may end up with.

    Lastly, I find your Vietnam analogy interesting, but would have to think about it more…

    My main concern is that Vietnam is not the correct analogy, but rather that of Afghanistan with the Russians fighting against Bin Ladin and the Muhajideen in the 80’s.

    Bin Laden clearly learned there how to mire a super-power in an intractable asymmetric war. And it seems AQ had this exact goal in mind of us next. Back in 2004 Bin Laden said:

    “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah…We, alongside the mujahedeen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat…[it is] easy for us to provoke and bait this administration…

    …Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs… As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars. …[As for Bush] the darkness of black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.

    So the war went ahead, the death toll rose, the American economy bled, and Bush became embroiled in the swamps of Iraq that threaten his future.”

  11. July 19, 2007 9:16 pm

    All modern definitions, except the most minimalist, also consider civil liberties to be a vital component of what is often called “liberal democracy.”

    “Civil liberties” of course being so very easy to provide in a war zone.

    As a reasonable “baseline”, it would be quite interesting to see how they would rank say…the USA under FDR during WWII. I’m guessing the concentration camps for the Japanese, press censorship, rationing, heavy handed civil defense intimidation tactics, etc would go over real well.

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