A weblog on past-and-present military affairs, Dodgers baseball, and whatever else comes into my mind.
This blog run by:
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh
a graduate student (and mad Dodgers fan) in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.
For more on Archidamus, read Thucydides' famous account of the Peloponnesian Congress in 432 BC.
You can find the "post-of-purpose" here.
For a brief statement on my "editorial" policy with regards to changes to posts after they've been first published, see this.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
WILL AND DEFEAT:
From Winds of Change:
Ultimately, the success or failure of the Iranian strategy with regard to the US in Iraq will depend on whether or not the United States and its allies retain the collective national will to defeat the insurgents. The question of whether or not Iraq will become a second Vietnam (i.e. a US defeat) is probably best answered, "No, and it won't be as long as we don't let it."
So whose will is stiffer, or, rather, stiff enough to win--Sadr et al or Washington? Washington has more raw military power, but its deployment is so blunted by political considerations that the superiority is to some degree degraded, although not entirely so. Nevertheless, sufficient will among the insurgents, depending on either the open or tacit support of the majority of Iraq's population, can make up for our preponderance in raw power.
The record of American "will" in war is quite mixed. Probably the most tenacious American military project was the Southern Confederacy, which in the end still lost, and which in addition doesn't bode well for arguments that the justness of a cause is somehow linked to the enthusiasm with which its advocates fight. This century, Germans, Russians, and Japanese seem to have show a far greater will to fight than the United States, which won WWII mostly through a preponderance of industrial capacity. Again, a willingness to fight and die has nothing to do with the benevolence of a cause.
Vietnam is an obvious example of American will collapsing, and recent history has been mixed, with a stronger pattern of lack-of-will than its presence. Mogadishu and our pre-9/11 conduct toward Al Qaeda can be described as at best criminally apathetic and at worst a tribute to cowardice; both wars against Iraq and the destruction of the Taliban are somewhat ambiguous since the opposing military forces were too overmatched to inflict enough casualties to test American political will. The Balkans and Haiti were less disgraceful than Mogadishu, but very much in line with American unwillingness to incur the shedding of blood in war.
Most right-of-center warbloggers seem to think our will sufficient; hence the argument that the current insurgency is an "opportunity" to face down and defeat the enemies of liberalism in Iraq.
We shall see.
WAS OSAMA RIGHT?: I for one always thought Osama had a point in mocking our unwillingness to respond to extraordinary provocation. People like Sadr and the Baathists in Fallujah know all the American public's response to Vietnam and Mogadishu; they are predicting the same here. I for one think they may be right.
If Bush loses the election over Iraq, Kerry may attempt some version of Iraqification that involves immediate withdrawal of all or almost all US forces, which means Iraq will be a very unstable place dominated by very, very unpleasant people. Even keeping US forces in the North to influence affairs may be impossible; the Kurds may be left to their own devices. They may have enough military capacity on their own to retain possession of the North, but without our presence, the Turks become more of a wild-card. The problem will not so much be political instability in Iraq, which we should have expected anyhow, the problem will be that the non-presence of US forces will make Iraq more unstable than it would be if we were around in a limited capacity, and without a presence, we will have no influence on events on the ground. If, for example, we had not so aggressively argued for democratization as a war aim, then we might have already handed power to an Iraqi government which probably would have promptly fell apart. But Kurdistan would have still been secure, and we could have used it as a base to influence events in the rest of Iraq and the region, which probably would have ended up ike Afghanistan: very, very tenuous, but with no pretenses as to it being anything else, and with US forces much less exposed.
But now that we've committed so much prestige and resources to the democratization project, the more cautious half-measures we took in Afghanistan may essentially be off-the-table. If we leave now or shortly after the election, we may leave for good--completely defeated, our ability to influence events in the Middle East shattered.
We shall see.... The CPA may be in fact able to restore the situation. I've been VERY pessimistic as of late, but things can change very quickly in situations like this. And Kerry's conduct after his inauguration can't really be divined from his campaign; it's of course in his best interest to highlight the negatives in Iraq, but he's enough of an establishment figure that he may decide to try to save American prestige by withdrawing to the North and radically reducing our ambitions in the region. Or continuing a Bush policy that did exactly that. After building up our goals so high, that alternative would still be a strategic defeat in some ways, but an independent and successful Kurdistan might in the end prove a powerful rebuke to Sadr and his ilk, and a thorn in the side of our foes. Remember that Syria has a substantial Kurdish population. We could also influence events in Iraq with methods more subtle than our current attempts at full-scale governance, which might serve our ends just as well.
For the nation-builders, Afghanistan is an example of what not to do after defeating our enemies, and Iraq is a model of what we should attempt. I'd reverse it; I prefer our lower profile in Afghanistan and am increasingly frowning on our exposure in Iraq. The potential payoff can be bigger, even existential, in Iraq, but the potential losses can be severe, even catastrophic. Less is at stake in Afghanistan, precisely because we have chose to work through warlords and the like.
Anyhow, Osama might ended up being right about our inability to face down our enemies, but he still loses if our strategic dexterity can harness our material advantages while shielding our weaknesses. There are still ways of us rolling with the punches and finding a policy between over-ambitious nation-building and complete withdrawal.
Finally, perhaps most importantly with regards to the question, "Was Osama right that we're a bunch of decadent cowards?", as I've pointed out many times, strength-of-belief in a cause, at least of the sort Osama has, is no real indication of the cause's justness. I personally think an American unwillingness to recognize the frequently bloody moral pitfalls of statecraft will be costly in terms of both lives and treasure in the end, but I'd rather we be the laughingstocks of Baathists and Islamic extremists than trade places with them. Nevertheless, there is still a moral imperative for our leaders to have enough wisdom to craft as successful and efficient (in terms of losses--both human and strategic) as possible.
Monday, April 05, 2004
THE PRICE OF PRINCIPLE: But the Bushies have hemmed themselves in with much-too-lofty goals, which makes failure all too possible. Strategic advantage hinges to some degree on prestige and perceptions of power, and a Iraq that countinues to spiral into chaos will rightly be seen as a defeat for a crucial portion of American foreign policy. It's by no means pre-ordained, but it can happen. The blame for such a defeat on the American side of policy making will go around aplenty--"realist" hawks (such as myself) for not having made a stronger effort to disassociate themselves from "neo-conservative" nation-builders; liberal (and neo-con) nation-builders for having created a tremendous pressue in favor of these sorts-of exercises in piety; the Bush Administration's almost-comic deference to legalistic questions at the UN which drove the heavy use of the WMD issue; faulty US intelligence dating back to the Clinton Administration which would have prevented the previous mis-step; whatever individual mis-steps policymakers on the ground have made; and most importantly, a general and long-standing belief among Americans that liberal democracy only needs at most benign well-meaning NGO-type organizations as midwives, regardless of pre-existing hostilty, historical circumstance, and military realities on the ground. Even liberal nation-builders who recognize the importance of security seem unable to tolerate the inherent messiness of military force.
I wonder if the Iraq War would have been impossible to wage purely on the strategic grounds I've cited; Bush did talk about the whole democratization issue before the war; the case was NOT purely based on WMD. If the political context in which American foreign policy is made has become one so infused with liberal democratic dogma that wars must be both painless and spotlessly Just in a manner that is totally incompatible with ANY form of military force, then perhaps a continued policy of containment vis-a-vis Iraq would have been more practical. The Saudis may not be our friends, but maybe friends like those are the price for our "principles."
As for Saddam's totalitarian state, well, I may feel a sort-of abstract discomfort at my government's total indifference to what has occurred and is occuring in place like the Balkans, Rwanda, the Congo, the Sudan, Chechnya, but statecraft is about what one DOES as opposed to what one thinks or feels, and adding Saddam to the list of tolerable despots might not be such a big deal. That's a problem for all the Left/liberal critics of Bush; I make no pretensions of caring enough about misery in the aforementioned parts of the world that I'd actually be willing to DO something about it. And I doubt the American public would be willing to see 60,000 US troops deployed to the Congo, with a trickle of bodies being sent home. There's not much to feel guilty about there, I think, since pious Europeans turn out to be as practically indifferent as Americans.
As for the possibility of a profoundly dangerous link between Baathist Iraq and anti-American terrorists already existing and coming into being in the future: well, if current American principles demand that only a catastrophic attack against American citizens (as opposed to just fighting a war and shooting at US servicemen/women as Iraq did in the fifteen years before last year's invasion) is considered a legitimate reason to classify a state or discrete group as an enemy worthy of elimination, no one said principles don't have a price. [After all, before] 9/11, Osama blowing up an embassy here and there, killing a few dozen sailors and airmen--all that wasn't really considered serious enough to actually being impolite enough to topple the Taliban, or even to violate its sovereignty with infidel American commandos. Maybe after the trauma of 9/11 has faded, Americans are [still] as a whole so committed to such a high standard of enemy provocation that the de facto result is we have to wait for something like 9/11 before we can respond.
I honestly don't know.
Anyhow, on a more practical level, as I said before, the game is still up. Sadr might prove to be a yahoo only a small minority of the Shia support, and maybe Sistani himself wil decide to sell him down the river before he wreaks too much havoc. The recent lynching in Fallujah may prove to be the temporary and purely symbolic moment of triumph before Baathism's final collapse in Iraq. Lots of things can happen, but make no failure about, abstract ideas like "democracy" and "freedom" do not guarantee us success; they may even be an important cause of failure.
STAYING POWER: Will this Sadr's attempt at a revolt succeed? How will things play out in Fallujah? Who knows? Only time will tell.
Things look very bad for the CPA right now, but the game is anything but over. Sadr's forces seem to be fighting in the open, which is not necessarily a smart idea, considering American advantages in firepower. However, even if they're crushed, which they probably will be, the amount of death and destruction inflicted on civilians caught in the middle could irreparably damage both US and Iraqi public opinion. At the same time, excessive sensitivity to this political problem may hinder an adequately vigorous response.
A lot will also depend on Sistani. Who truly represents the Shia--relatively moderate clerics willing to help the United States, or folk of Sadr's ilk? Is there a regional difference; are Shia in Baghdad different from their coreligionists in the South? Dunno enough about Iraqi politics to have any plasible opinion on that.
A reinvigorated Baathist insurgency combined with a widespread Shia revolt with popular support could potentially push US forces out. The fatal flaw of all of Bush's democratization rhetoric is that removes a lot of options of the table--for example, even if coalition forces leave, the result is not as inimical to American interests (as opposed to our oh-so-pious self-image) as having left Saddam in place. Neither Sadr nor the remaining Baathists are strong enough to truly suppress the other party, much less assert control over the Kurdish North. With Iranian support, Sadr et al might be able to bring the Sunni triangle to heel, but I doubt the Kurds will be amenable to pacification, however undecorous the methods of Sadr and his ilk might be. The Baathists seem better armed and more militarily sophisticated--benefits of their previous background--but they're minority status is fatal I think, even with support from Sunni extremists like Al Qaeda. There are also questions about whether or not the Shia might end up fighting among themselves; if there is a regional distinction in Shia political loyalties, Sadr et al might not be able to bring Basra under their control. A fully independent Kurdistan will cause problems with Turkey, but a truly hard-headed policy would force Turkey to acquiesce, assuming that assurances are made with regards to Turkey's own territorial integrity.
In the end, a fractured Iraq with the Shia and Sunni's bloodying each other and a fully independent Kurdistan is still a better situation for the United States than Saddam leading a unified Iraq. It is also probably a far better outcome on humanitarian terms for the Kurds, although that may not be the case for the rest of the country, depending on how one wishes to judge the importance of state-enforced order, whatever the means might have been used to enforce that order. The whole humanitarian calculus is so fuzzy that it should probably be ignored.
But in raw strategic terms, this is still a situation better than that before Saddam's toppling. The new Kurdistan plays the role Saudi Arabia once played as the linchpin of American influence in the region, and the rest of Iraq will be so fractured as to be a poor vehicle of influence for Tehran. The United States could still continue to support indirectly friendly elements in an Iraq riven by civil war, giving it as much an influence in the rest of Iraq as Iran. If Washington had NOT made Iraq's democratization as a unitary state one of its primary war aims; if it had focused on questions of strategic advantage; then pulling a Pilate and leaving everywhere but the Kurdish North to fend for itself would be a viable option.
Democracies are supposed to derive their legitimacy directly from the people; if large and influential segments of said people want no such thing, one wonders if there is really a point to investing as much blood and treasure as we have in trying to make something work that the supposed recipients of our efforts don't actually want. When analyzing such a failure, it would be best to recognize the "agency" of those in Iraq who disagree with Washington; if our current efforts at democratization fails, people like Sadr and the remaining Baathists deserve at least as much, probably more, of the credit/blame/whatever for that failure as does the CPA.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
THE MARINES RESPOND: There's a reason why they're making the decisions, and I'm not. It seems that the restraint may have been wise. The NYT reports that local clerics in Fallujah are unhappy with the mob's behavior after the initial attach. The elaborate mutilation seems to have violated Islamic ideals about proper treatment of the dead:
"All the Falluja people accept this incident but they did not accept the dragging of bodies," said Mohammed Khalifa, a trader of spare parts who closed his shop during the disturbance in a sign of disgust. "All men are creatures of God. The clerics will not tolerate this."
American officials said they met today with local leaders, including Falluja's mayor and several clerics. American officials said the clerics committed to issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, at Friday prayers condemning the attack. The clerics also helped American authorities recover three of the four bodies, which were dragged from burning vehicles by a jeering mob and then taken to a bridge over the Euphrates where at least two charred corpses were strung up by a rope and dangled over the water.
The military also seems to be planning its response:
"We will be back in Falluja," said Brig. General Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for the occupation forces. "It will be at the time and place of our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them or we will capture them. And we will pacify Falluja."
US military forces can afford to be restrained; the people who attacked those contractors yesterday want the Marines to leave; if in a few months it's clear that they aren't leaving, then the insurgents have not fulfilled their primary objective, which is not so much to mutilate bodies, but to get US troops out of there so the Baathists can run the town again.
FALLUJAH: Shortly before the Marines went into Iraq, many seemed to make a big deal about how they would use different methods than the Army. Well, the USMC now has its chance to live up its generally high reputation as fine practitioners of counter-insurgency warfare. Our response to seeing several of our citizens being strung up has been far too passive as of yet; I would like to think the local commanders will realize that they need to make some sort-of show-of-force in response, if for no other reason than to recover the bodies. US forces look awfully cowed right now, which is not the right message to send. The Marines have said that they've been more aggressive with patrols as of late; it's clear they'll need to ratchet up the volume now.
Another comment. The recent episode in Fallujah is yet another reason why I always found the "humanitarian" justification for the war in Iraq so dubious. Much of that rhetoric rested on the premise that the vast majority of Iraqis want liberal democracy. Although recent polling data actually supports that assertion in many ways, it's also clear that a sizable group of Iraqis quite frankly liked the Baathist regime. Or, at least, they liked it more than the current American occupation, and they're willing to commit acts of violence to make that point. The images from Iraq point to the fact, I think, that glibly believing that everyone in the world wants to live the way we do and shares our values is patently absurd. The large angry group of Iraqis who strung up those Americans are not the romanticized resistance-fights of Left-wing fantasies about national determination in the Third World, nor are they the isolated deviants of a society made up for the most part of people who share our values--they're something altogether different; they're Iraqis, who come out of a specific cultural and historical context.
With all that said, so what? Saddam Hussein was an enemy of the United States in a very strategic part of the world; he forcibly violated long-standing rules of international order by invading Kuwait before the First Gulf War in a region of the world that matters a great deal to us (and a whole mess of other people; why do you think Tokyo foot such a big chunk of the bill for Gulf War I); his response to international demands to cease and desist was war. After fighting the United States government, he agreed to an armstice to end hostilities, which he continually violated in the interim between the end of the First Gulf War and the beginning of the Second, going as far as to lob missiles at United States aircraft, and perhaps even plot the assassination of Bush the Elder. George W. Bush decided enough was enough, with heightened post-9/11 concerns about terrorism and WMD focusing our attention on a problem we should have dealt with long before, so the United States military invaded.
Remember the significance of the invasion of Kuwait. Countries all across the world disagree on the nature of political legitimacy: a few continue to have constitutional monarchs, some use scarcely-concealed strongmen, others like China use a authoritarian one-party state, there are the liberal democracies, etc. Some countries consider abortion immoral, others do not; some sanction capital punishment, others do not; the list is endless. But all nation-states agree, for self-interest if nothing else, that you can't invade another country and swallow it whole on a whim. There are of course ambiguous situations--protean "nation-states" whose existence is questionable: Chechnya, the PA, Tibet, Taiwan, etc.--but Kuwait was NOT one of those ambiguous situations. In an arena where rules are notoroiusly fungible, Saddam's infraction was so severe that it was beyond question. To make matters more serious, he was in a part of the world where his conduct could translate into substantial power for himself, which could then present serious threats to our own security.
After much dithering, we decided that prudence no longer need to restrain us from taking the actions we always had the RIGHT to take--and I don't mean "right" in a legalistic sense of the term. I mean it in a much more common-sensical sense; Saddam made a deal after Gulf War I to preserve his power, he violated it, deal's off, if we want, we can break that power. If anyone wants to give me a pious lecture about the UN and international law, I'd like to point out that I fail to see the justice in a system that deprives Taiwan, with its messy if functioning liberal democracy, of official nation-state status, but gives the PRC, with its vaguley authoritarian one-party state, pride of place in enforcing the norms of international order.
In terms of "moral" obligation in the humanitarian sense of the term, the US is only obligated to do due diligence in minimizing civilian injury, death, and property damage; and to return sovereignty to some kind-of Iraqi government within a reasonable time frame. One must of course balance the inevitable civilian deaths against Saddam's potential threat to ourselves, and what our own losses would potentially be, but in my view, the calculus justified war last year. As for post-war issues, If we could have found a General by now who could keep the country from falling apart, I wouldn't have really minded all that much to have given him the government. As it stands, post-Saddam Iraq is a giant power vacuum filled with people who seriously disagree with one another, so a ramshackle "democracy" seems the best bet. Whatever works...
But that does nothing to change my basic assertion that the Iraq War is best justified not by reformist charity, but by blunt justice. Saddam picked this fight; we fought back; he lost.
Sunday, March 14, 2004
POLITICS, 3/11, AND DEFEAT: Over at Oxblog, Belton writes:
Aznar's government is seen as having played politics with the investigation, which if true would have been unworthy both of the commitment to principle which brought his government into Iraq and of the continued trust of his nation.
I find it curious that Belton makes no comment on how odd this accusation is. There was plenty of evidence pointing to ETA, and in the last few days, the Spanish government has done a pretty poor job of hiding the possible links to Al Qaeda. Sure, the Popular Party clearly would have preferred that the attacks be ascribed to ETA for political reasons, but weren't the socialists also playing politics with this whole issue?
Belton's willingness to give credence to this conspiracy theory in order to qualify the opening assertion in his post that "the terrorists got what they wanted" (note the "But to be fair, on the other hand" in the post) just seems to ignore the simple fact that the Spanish want no part in our little "project" in Iraq. And the strange end of the post, which implies that the Spanish need some leeway from their recent troubles to somehow excuse their votes today (note the use of the term "forgiving"--Belton's syntax is a bit muddled) seems to ignore accounts I've read which indicated that Spanish public opinion was always opposed to helping us in Iraq. Indeed, it's my impression that a majority of Europeans even in the central and eastern european countries that have supported Washington were and are opposed to the Iraq war.
Anyhow, I don't understand Belton's whole stream of qualifiers to his original statement, namely that the terrorists got what they wanted. I think we need to face the simple fact, without qualification, that Al Qaeda has detached Spain from the "Coalition of the Willing" by making participation too painful. And if it turns out ETA was responsible, it'll be truly ironic because it'll mean that Al Qaeda has achieved some of its war aims by simply taking credit for other people's dirty work.
As I said before, Spanish foreign policy is up to the Spaniards to decide. They have their own cost-benefit calcuation, just as we have our own. If they decided 3/11 was a price too high to pay to support our ventures in Iraq and elsewhere, that's fine. We do not and should not make excuses for that simple fact.
SOLIDARITY SHAKY?: The comments section on Tim Blair's thread on the Spanish elections seem to indicate that the socialist party has won. Assuming the results are correct, it would appear that we now have one fewer member in the "Coalition of the Willing."
Oh well--the Spanish electorate can make its own choices as to its foreign policy, just as we can make our own. On the practical level, I think the Defense Department should begin to make contingency plans to take into account Spanish troop withdrawals from Iraq, which may be taking place soon.
I'm sure law enforcement cooperation will continue, just as it has continued with the Franco-German bloc.
One final comment directed to my fellow hawks: We DO NOT need to appeal to grandiose visions of ourselves as the defenders of civilization to justify our actions so far with regards to terrorism. If someone swings a baseball bat at you, you don't need to be a saint to be able to clunk the dude on the head with a brick.
The Spanish have their dead to bury and if they want our help in hunting down those responsible, we should provide it as long as those efforts are compatible with our own security interests. But if the elections do turn out to be repudiation of our foreign policy, those results should have no bearing on our own conduct. If it has any effect, it should only impress upon us the fact that different countries have different situations and different interests, and that worrying too much about other people's opinions is ultimately pointless. Their condemnation should be ignored just as their solidarity should be taken with a grain of salt.
Friday, March 12, 2004
SOLIDARITY? II: Sullivan has an interesting quote from Le Monde, but from the NY Times:
"I feel angry, not at Bush but at my own government for saying yes to war," said Josefa Carretero, 41, an administrative assistant. "If it turns out to be Al Qaeda, you don't have to be a genius to realize that it was because we participated in the war in Iraq."
Stratfor (full story requires subscription) claims that there is strong evidence that this is the work of Al Qaeda. However, the NYT article above has information indicating otherwise. It still seems to be an open question.
I make no claim to special knowledge about Spanish politics, but my own instincts think that the American blogosphere is overplaying the theme of some new unity between ourselves and western Europe with regards to terrorism, whoever was behind the attack. After all, such a thing was supposed to exist after 9/11, and it seems to have evaporated fairly quickly. And unlike liberals, I don't think it was simply because Bush didn't play nice at the UN.
A unity of sympathy and common condemnation of mass murder DOES NOT translate into agreement on how to deal with said mass murder.
SOLIDARITY?: My sympathies toward the victims of the recent terror attacks in Spain can of course be assumed, but I'm not sure that, to use Andrew Sullivan's words, "the citizens of Spain stand together against Islamist terror" (Sullivan) [LATER EDIT: This was a bad choice of words--it's clear that the vast majority of Spaniards are opposed to Islamist terror, but as I point out in the more recent post above, the issue is what TO DO about it]. If you read the AP article Sullivan links to, you find this:
If ETA is deemed responsible, that could boost support for Mariano Rajoy, Aznar's hand-picked successor in Sunday elections. Both have supported a crackdown on the violent separatist group. However, if the bombing is seen by voters as the work of al-Qaida, that could draw attention to Aznar's widely unpopular decision to support the U.S. war in Iraq.
In the WaPost:
However, if Islamic militants are believed involved, some analysts have said there could be a popular backlash against the Popular Party, for aligning Spain so closely with the United States and siding with the Bush administration in the Iraq War, which is still deeply unpopular here.
There was some initial evidence Friday that at least some people were ready to blame Aznar's pro-American policies for Thursday's tragedy. Outside the Atocha train station, where about half the people died, a group of demonstrators gathered around noon with some holding signs opposing the war in Iraq.
Assuming that this really was the work of Al Qaeda, and my current inclination is to believe that this isn't an ETA job, then the Spanish electorate may decide that a prominent, and thus exposed, role in our war on terror is something they'd rather not have.
The WaPost might with great sincerity proclaim:
The terrorists who struck yesterday, whether from ETA or al Qaeda, no doubt hoped to punish Mr. Aznar for his firmness and persuade Spaniards to abandon his policies. "This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," said a purported al Qaeda statement received by an Arabic newspaper. But the early signs were that the crime would rally support across Europe for Spain, and for resoluteness in an ongoing war. "Democracies must be -- and will be -- united in combating this without weakness," said French President Jacques Chirac. The horror of Madrid only confirms that a broad and determined alliance is the only answer to terrorism. It reminds us that the United States neither fights, nor suffers, alone.
But the WaPost's own reporters see something other than "resoluteness." I'm sure no respectable people in Europe actually approve of these attacks, but there can be significant difference of opinion as to how exactly to respond to it.
And I wouldn't really hold it against them. Both the Iraq War and the campaigns against Al Qaeda in Central Asia are pre-eminently our fights. Oh, sure, it's possible that if we entirely withdrew, the Europeans would then be "next," but there's a reason why Madrid was targeted and not Paris or Berlin.
I've never been persuaded that the current war is a conflict between radical Islamic terrorists and "civilization," much less the "West," I think it's a conflict between certain Islamic radicals and the United States, with those states who are directly in the theaters of conflict (Israel, every Arab state, many Central, South, and Southeast Asia states) playing various roles. I personally think that a total American collapse would in the end cause the Europeans problems, but bin Laden types simply don't have the numbers to "conquer" Europe. We're not talking about a second coming of the Turks to the gates of Vienna in the heart of Christendom.
If, for example, terrorists were to try to coerce France to allow for real radical Islamic control over the French state by nuking Paris, the French could just as well retaliate in kind with nuclear weapons against Osama's new Caliphate in the Arabian peninsula. Or, if there are scruples about using nukes, the Europeans could raise the necessary conventional forces to reconquer the Middle East if they put their minds to it. But that's all in a future that may or may not happen--in the here and now, the United States is the prime target, and it may be in the best interest of countries like Spain to let us deal with our own problems. In this sense, the Spanish support should be all the more appreciated (although I think it should be recognized that supporting the Iraq War is one way for countries like Spain to resist Franco-German domination in the EU), but if the price of this gift becomes too high, I don't think a withdrawal of support should be at all resented by Americans. But neither should it be taken as a reason to change our strategy in the current conflict.
BTW, I will make no guarantees about my frequency of posting. I've got a dissertation which must get done, and I must admit, much of my free time has been pre-occupied with baseball. Nevertheless, I may attempt to appear every so often.
Sunday, November 23, 2003
RESPONSE TO FENCE: First off, I just want to make a few points. My primary objection to Pax’s post was its implication of a moral obligation that I simply repudiate. The United States has a moral responsibility to make good faith efforts to achieve as desirable an outcome as possible in Iraq for all interested parties. The rub comes in how to define a “good faith” effort. I see the American military stretched to the breaking point; I see the commitment of tens of billions of dollars and huge amounts of political capital; I see a war that had gotten rid of Saddam in the first place waged with an unprecedented concern for civilian casualties, and conducted with a dramatic willingness to risk American lives in a way never even contemplated by the previous administration during its humanitarian ventures in Bosnia and Kosovo. All these measures fit with what I consider to be within “reasonable” bounds of what one can expect from an American administration.
What else is the United States supposed to do? Pour a hundred thousand more troops in? Where are they supposed to come from? The mysterious international community? I’m not even sure the Europeans even have a hundred thousand troops to send, even if they wished to do such a thing. Why European fathers and mothers would be more willing than Americans to send their children to far-off country to die for nothing more than an ideal escapes my mind. Would you prefer the under-trained rent-a-peacekeepers provided by various Third World countries? The United States has other security commitments to worry about, and our supply of young people willing to serve is distinctly limited. In sum, I would like to know what exactly Bush has to do to show himself to be “serious”? Does he have to call for a draft? Ask Congress for a 200 billion dollar supplemental? Beg Chirac to give him troops by inviting him to Crawford for wine and cheese?
In sum, the United States does not have a responsibility to guarantee the creation of a just and benevolent Iraq. First off, the Iraqis themselves disagree on what is a just Iraq, to the point that some are willing to kill others over the issue, but even if a solid majority were to agree on such a thing, the fact remains that we are not acting without our own constraints in Iraq. Disregarding the not-important issue of domestic politics, the United States will have the most say less by virtue of its justice and more by its sheer power, but so will the remaining Baathists, the various ethnic/religious groups in Iraq, the Exiles, regional powers, and, as is usually the case, dumb luck will deal out the cards according to its own rules.
Or to approach this in another way, I guess I just have to respectfully disagree with Josh’s use of the term “liberation.” When I think of liberation, I do not think of nation-building, I think primarily of the absence of totalitarian constraint. In the case of Iraq, the United States has already liberated it in the sense that Saddam et al no longer run the country. Under Saddam, Iraq was essentially doomed to a miserable existence. Now, without Saddam, it may still end up quite miserable, but there is at least the possibility for a more positive outcome, depending on a whole host of circumstances, not of all which are under our control.
And I think this administration clearly thought of liberation as primarily a lack of totalitarian restraint, as opposed to proactive nation-building. And its arguments for war clearly implied as much. Real advocates of nation-building picked up on this long before the war—the hostility of major policy-makers in the administration to humanitarian intervention in places like Kosovo, the constant emphasis on Iraq paying for its own reconstruction with indigenous oil revenue, the Pentagon’s long-standing desire to remove troops as quickly as possible, the whole flap with Shinseki over the size of the post-war force, the obvious unwillingness to take on too much responsibility in Afghanistan, all the arguments about how Iraq’s well-educated middle class could constitute a civil society, etc.
As Americans, the administration naturally assumed that freedom would automatically lead to a positive outcome. In the end, this may have proved worse than naive, but that’s an error of judgment, not an implied moral obligation for the commitment of unlimited resources. The Bush team promised to expel Saddam, which is what it did. If it misjudged the difficulties the Iraqis would have in mastering their own destiny, then the Bushies should be criticized for foolishness, not for being unwilling to commit a level of resources to Iraq that would be politically impossible, and perhaps utterly futile anyhow.
And this sort-of liberation-lite shouldn’t be seen as a matter of course. The only reason Saddam Hussein is gone is because the American military removed him. Just because we’ve become perversely used to lightning campaigns where the United States pounds its adversary, doesn’t mean we should take it for granted. And presumably Bush deserves some credit for the war’s relatively low amount of destruction (as wars go).
Anyhow, my point with Pax is just that he has no moral standing to call for an absolute commitment that never really was made, which as best as I can tell he implies, just as I’ve never been comfortable with the pious nature of this administration’s rhetoric at times. That post was as much a criticism of the increasing use by hawks of the humanitarian argument, which I see as both unnecessary and foolish. I do not think, for example, that my heavy emphasis on self-interest corresponds very well with Lileks’ demand for gratitude. But more importantly, an excessive emphasis on humanitarian motives raises expectations to levels that cannot be possibly met, and it further obscures the fact (in my view) that the United States government should be allowed to take our enemies’ rhetoric and actions seriously.
STABIILITY AND STATE SUPPORT: Second off, my support for the war centers less on WMD than on state support for terrorism writ large. And it depends in no way on the stability argument, which Josh uses, and which presumably separates me from what I understand to be one of the tenets of “realism” among IR-types. I haven’t actually read any of their stuff, so I usually don’t appropriate the title, and when I do, I usually imply a certain type of realism grounded in Thucydides, the republicanism of the Federalist Papers, and idle speculation, that may or may not be similar to real "realists."
To return to the subject at hand, I would prefer a confused situation where American troops are on the ground and can influence matters in some ways, than a stable one where all the levers of powers are held by hostile powers. Iraq was very stable for the most part under Saddam—everyone in most of Iraq (excluding the Kurdish areas) knew who exactly was in charge. Saudi Arabia was also more stable than it is now, with the monarchy looking the other way. As was Afghanistan—it might not have been a nice place to live, but most of the country was under the sway of the Taliban, with fewer free-lancers than the situation we have now. And the recent increase of fundamentalist attacks on Turkey might still have happened without the American war. The secular governing elite and army of that country has had long-standing problems with Islamic politics, which might have brimmed over at a future date.
More importantly for me, the crucial issue for me is state-support for terrorism. And I mean terrorism as a whole—I don’t think we should only worry about Al Qaeda. We’ve had problems with terrorists before Al Qaeda, and we’ll have problems long after Al Qaeda as an organization is gone. Iraq had a record of supporting terrorism in other contexts; who’s to say that it wouldn’t at one point support a terrorist attack against the United States? If Saddam was willing to lob missiles at American planes, and before that, to fight a war against a giant, UN mandated force with an American core sitting across the border in Saudi Arabia, who’s to say he wouldn’t have tried his luck in the future? In light of Saddam’s record, this is hardly a hypothetical question, or unreasonable in my view. Various African dictators and warlords are unpleasant fellows, but none of them shoot missiles at American planes, none of them are in areas of strategic significance with access to large amounts of power, and none have fought the United States in an all-out shooting war. State-less terrorist groups provide a convenient aura of deniability. What use is deterrence if it’s totally mysterious as to whether or not the trigger has been pulled? MAD worked, because only one other country in the world could nuke us to smithereens, so it was pretty obvious who to shoot back at. The same thing applied to the Soviet side. Terrorism is the tactic of the weak, but it does have the advantage of anonymity.
Saddam already made it clear he was an enemy of the United States; why not take his word for it? Why forbear? 9/11 was pulled of by a bunch of terrorists operating with only the resources of a wealthy magnate and a crack-pot state in Central Asia which derived most of its income from heroin. What do you think a bunch of terrorists can do with the support of a state as well developed as Saddam’s that the only way to get rid of it was to deploy a giant army to do the job? And even then, pieces of it are still running around blowing people up. Why do you think the current Intifada is so much more lethal? One reasons is because the Palestinians have a state. Why do you think the arc of Al Qaeda before it lost its state sanctuary was bomb US embassies, bomb US personnel overseas, bomb an actual US warship, bomb a high value civilian target in New York City; now after it lost its state sanctuary, kill westerners at a resort in a Muslim country, attack the Saudi government, components of which seemed to be sympathetic beforehand, attempt destabilize the country it used to actually control, help kill US personnel in relatively small numbers in Iraq, etc. I’m sure Al Qaeda or a successor group will eventually get its act together and blow up a soft-target in New York or some other US city, but I think it astonishing they still haven’t managed a major attack on American soil since 9/11. Judging by the information available at the outbreak of war, WMD added another exponential worry, which I was fixated on as much as anyone else, but note that plenty of people have already died without access to WMD, and the biggest attack of them all occurred not with access to WMD, but the support of a nation state.
PRECEDENTS AND INITIATIVE: We can debate over the imminence of Iraqi threat, but, to use Josh’s query, “Can we go in and overthrow them all [hostile regimes] without conclusive evidence that they really are about to attack us?,” I think it dangerous to rely on “conclusive evidence” as our standard of action. If you think as I do that the war against terrorism is fundamentally a war, then one must take into account the Clausewitzian friction inherent in war. I have very little faith in the ability of our intelligence service’s to predict every imminent threat; I think that both unreasonable and overly passive, in an arena of life that requires initiative and proactive action. Saddam’s historical record should be enough to show his hostility in my view—I’d rather not wait and see whether or not the CIA really knows what’s going on.
9/11 set a very dangerous precedent—a very large attack on American soil killing thousands of Americans was shown to be very possible, with very little technological and organizational support. That precedent can be used by anyone—terrorists, crime-lords, anti-American nuts, right-wing American nuts, anarchists, whatever—it can even be used by states, if they’re smart enough to use a terrorist group as a proxy to hide its involvement. There were three states in the world I think might have recognized that precedent and attempted to exploit it—the so-called Axis of Evil, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Iran seems the most open to negotiation of the three, and my understanding is that Khatami has actually endorsed the recent American timeline for sovereign transfer in Iraq. North Korea already has a nuke, and will need to be appeased—the task there is to keep the bribery at a minimum with high-stakes poker playing on our part. Iraq had a regime more rigid than Iran’s, if perhaps less so than North Korea’s, but one in the same strategic region as Al Qaeda’s base, and one that was strong enough to be dangerous, but not so strong as to be immune to destruction. It’s gone, and as far as I’m concerned we’ll be better off for it.
LILEKS VS. PAX: A few points with regards to this controversy (via Sitting on a Fence). First off, I think both parties did not credit to themselves—Pax’s letter comes off as sneering and overly flippant, while Lileks just lost it. Totally lost it. I can see where both are coming from, but both parties need to get off their high-horses on this.
First off, Pax seems to portray himself as something of a sophisticate. Well, to go into the format of addressing the letter-writer directly, geez, Mr. Sophisticated, with the condescending reference to “Georgie” and “Rambo,” is it Bush’s fault that you actually thought that this war was entirely about liberating the Iraqi people? Bush himself never premised his whole case on simply that point—and I at least still continue to refuse to use the humanitarian justification for this war. As people like Andrew Sullivan have pointed out, the case for war was a complicated one, with different people emphasizing different points, but I at least didn’t go to war to simply make you and your countrymen’s lives better. And even people like Wolfowitz never used a purely humanitarian justification BEFORE the war (I personally thinking the increasing [but still not exclusive] post-facto use of that argument by hawks to be mistake in many ways).
I supported the war for a simple reason—I considered Saddam Hussein a threat to the security and interests of the American people. Other people have rehashed all the arguments over WMD, regional stability, containment, blah, blah, blah, and any reader of this blog can easily find those arguments in other places far more competently done than what I could do. And my stance on those arguments is already self-evident. But the point I want to make is that I don’t support the commitment of not inconsiderable amounts of American blood and treasure to the continuing conflict in Iraq as a pure act of disinterested charity.
Every nation-state has its hands full keeping its own citizens from being murdered en masse while going about their daily mundane existence, a task so difficult that many states can’t even manage that, while other states are doing the murdering themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the United States government has a moral duty first and foremost to protect the lives of its own citizens—that does not mean we should actively harm other nations and peoples for simple mercenary advantage—but it does mean that the principle I advocate is to try to protect one’s own while doing no harm abroad.
If another state decides to threaten the United States, and it is clear that Hussein’s regime considered itself an enemy of the United States, then Washington has both the right and the obligation to do something about it. It is up to statecraft to determine the proper measures, which will of course vary depending on the situation, and will always be debatable, but there’s NO REASON in my view why we should practice perpetual forbearance with people who see themselves as our enemies, and wish us ill-will.
If you believe as I do (and this is of course debatable) that Saddam’s Iraq posed back in the spring a plausible enough threat to the UNITED STATES to justify taking decisive action, especially in the context of a larger war on terror, then that in-and-of-itself is justification enough for the war.
The Iraqi people are of course not to blame for having a despot as their leader, but every people is captive in some ways to the caprice of its government, and sometimes must pay for the government’s sins, even when such an outcome is manifestly unjust. For example, I do not think the Germans or the Japanese “deserved” totalitarian dictatorships (don’t get me wrong, I’m not absolving the publics of either of ALL responsibility), but that is no excuse for other governments to simply stand aside and let their own charges become new victims. And if that means that innocents in a country with a hostile government have to suffer so that there are not even more victims in countries under threat, then that’s simply the harsh choice that good governments must make.
Now, of course, in the process of protecting its interests, any government should do its best in setting up as benign a set of circumstances as possible, but “possible” is the operative word here. The United States, by virtue of its giant military, could afford certain moral luxuries, such as a historically unprecedented concern with limiting civilian casualties, but there are limits. Those limits are in the end founded in many ways on human selfishness—only so many Americans are willing to travel to far-off parts of the world to try to put other peoples’ countries back together again, and only so many taxpayers will tolerate the deductions from their paycheck from not staying at home.
THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK DONE: For me, the most important task of the war has been done—depriving international terrorist groups of any possibility of access to the resources of a modern, functioning state, which was what Iraq was under Saddam. It certainly would be better from a security standpoint if Iraq had a new, stable state, less threatening to American interests, but even a far higher level of chaos and anarchy than we see now in Iraq would be preferable to a functioning state that could (at least in the future) give aid and safe-harbor to groups like Al Qaeda.
I know some argue that terrorism breeds in chaos; I think there’s much truth to that, but I also think it understates the importance of state support. Al Qaeda has its greatest achievements (9/11, but also the embassy bombings and the USS Cole attack) when it had state sponsorship in the form of the Taliban. It was a weak state, but it was a state, and although the Northwest Frontier province and pieces of Afghanistan are still pretty chaotic now, Al Qaeda has obviously seen better days. Of course, I should point out that if an area is in chaos, it’s best if have some input and presence in the midst of the anarchy to make the confusion as much a hindrance to one’s enemies as it is to oneself, which is what’s happening in both the chaotic parts of Iraq and Afghanistan/NW Frontier Province, but my main point remains focused on depriving our enemies of STATE support.
And that’s been done in Iraq. The most self-interested aim of the war—self-interested but still justified in my view; the two are not necessarily in conflict—is completed, and for that reason, there will be much less public support for resources dedicated to what are (for Americans) essentially luxuries.
SELF-RIGTHEOUSNESS ALL AROUND: This is of course a horrible injustice in many ways, but Mr. Pax (I assume the second name is your surname), I’m sorry to say that despite your sophistication, you seem to have forgotten that Americans are not saints; they’re people, and there are limits to what they are willing to give up to help other people who are thousands of miles removed. As a tremendously wealthy people, we have more surplus than most, but only so many of our young people wish to join the military, and after the usual slew of middle-class entitlement programs and other cushy domestic benefits, only so much money can go overseas. “Georgie” has an election to worry about, and if too many of our soldiers die in Iraq (I’m sorry, but Americans pay more attention to American deaths than Iraqi deaths, although I’m pretty sure it’s vice versa on your end), or if all our seniors lose their social security checks to make sure you’ve got running water and power, a few American soldiers will hang around to pound terrorists, but you can forget about much help with anything else.
Or, to put it another way, if America was placed under the control of a totalitarian despot, would Iraqis be willing to march to free us, unless there was something in it for all of you? Neither of our peoples can claim complete moral sanctity, so let’s avoid the moral grandstanding, eh?
I certainly don’t expect you to be grateful and neither will I cast unjust blame on you for being stuck with Saddam before—which is my biggest beef with Lileks’ piece, along with the unnecessary rudeness, which was even more off-putting than your condescension—but I won’t shed any tears over how dissatisfied you are with our “service.” I didn’t support this war for your sake, I supported it for my own. I wish you no harm, and honestly hope things work out for both you and your people, but I care more about myself more than I do about you, more about my family and friends than I do for your family and friends, and more about my countrymen than yours. We all have our own responsibilities, and the only reason my country is intruding itself in your country’s affairs is that you had the misfortune of having a dangerous thug as Crazy Dictator, who looked like he was going to continue to cause my country problems. Otherwise, my country’s soldiers wouldn’t be in yours trying to put humpty-dumpty together again.
I know my government ginned expectations too high up—a really quite horrible mistake, I think—but I should also point out that without all the pious rhetoric, even fewer resources would probably be devoted to nation-building in Iraq that what we are now sending. And if you think we made a mess getting rid of Saddam (by the way, it was my impression that the carpet was hardly spotless before we showed up, especially for your countrymen in the South), you should look at our handiwork in Germany and Japan—one of the reasons the Baathists are giving us so much grief is that we were so quick with our “Rambo-in-Baghdad” war, in large part to reduce the number of politically problematic civilian casualties, so that we didn’t get much of a chance to kill off large numbers of Baathists. We had no such problem in Germany and Japan, but I assume you might not have wanted a longer and far more painful war, with more civilian casualties, but which would presumably have made a post-war guerrilla phase much less likely than the scenario that actually occurred.
In sum, Mr. Pax, I don’t want your gratitude, I don’t even really want your respect. I just want to make sure a terrorist has as few weapons as possible at his (and now, her) disposal in his quest for killing Americans, because that’s all I think my people can in the end manage the resources to ensure, because it's an issue that directly touches our lives. I know we’re not doing as much as you’d like to give you a stable, liberal-democratic state, perhaps not even as much as you would deserve in an ideal world, but just as the average Iraqi care most about the security situation on his or her street, the average American will naturally worry the most about his or her son or daughter in the service, or his or her taxes coming out of a paycheck. And even with unlimited resources, the gods always have their say, whatever mice and men plan. Anyhow, just as I don’t blame average Iraqis for not picking up rifles and somehow overthrowing Saddam before the war, I don’t blame the average American for worrying more about the life outside his window than distant images on his television screen. And that’s that from this American.
Monday, November 17, 2003
WHY BASEBALL'S SO AMERICAN: Eghads, I didn't realize I had been this remiss with the blog. This is what happens when you've got a dissertation to work on and job letters to write. Anyhow, on the suggestion of a friend, I'll put this edited list (they were originally in an e-mail I sent) of a few reasons why baseball is so American on my blog:
1. The sport was "invented" in the States. This may not amuse Europeans, but since the sport is so relentlessly American, we seem to be somewhat indifferent to what other people think of it. For example, US pro players can't play in the olympics, because it conflicts with the MLB season, which is why the United States did not even
2. Of all the professional American sports, it has the longest and richest history. Baseball columnists regularly pull out stats from a hundred years ago. And in a country infamous for its lack of moorings to tradition, baseball is steeped in them--everything from players' bizarre superstitions to the attachment of "curses" to some of the game's most prominent franchises to the elaborate ritualization of fist-fights between pitchers and batters.
3. To use an argument of George Will, baseball's emphasis on a pitcher-batter duel reflects the American strain of individualism--batter vs. pitcher is almost like a show-down in a western, sort of the American version of the aristocratic duel, but transmogrified for the common man.
4. The sport, unlike football, which is the more "popular" pro sport of the moment, is extremely diverse in the ethnicities and even nationalities of its players, another "American" thing. Large numbers of players hail from much of Latin America, and an increasing number come from the far east. The NBA has more and more European players (it seems that if you want someone to be able to hit a jump shot, you have to get a player from Europe), but there's no "second" continent serving as a major source of players, and I think if you broke down the stats, I think there are still probably more foreign players percentage-wise in baseball than in basketball. And the NFL doesn't seem to have any players from overseas at all.
5. Baseball has its own statistical science with its own name, called "sabermetrics." There are fans who go to great lengths to crunch numbers on everything from defensive fielding prowess to adjusting hitter's statistics to take into account the different layouts of ball parks. I've always thought quantification a peculiarly American obsession with "scientific" forms of management.
6. Baseball players have the most dignified uniforms in pro-sports. Unlike NASCAR drivers who are walking billboards, football players who look like human wrecking balls in their body armor, basketball players with their ludicrously baggy shorts and gazillions of tattoos, baseball players only wear their team's logo and a few other baseball related patches. And a few teams still even follow the old practice of leaving the names off jerseys and only having a number, to emphasize the importance of the team, as opposed to the individual. And the best, most classic uniforms of some of the most storied franchises--esp. the Dodgers with their white home uniforms with the blue lettering for the Dodgers script, and a touch of red in the team number, and the Yanks with their famous pinstripes--are by far the best uniforms in all of American professional sports.
So, that's a few reasons why baseball's so American.
If I ever find the time, I also wanted to write a post about why I supported the Iraq war, which as far as I'm concerned has little to do with all this recent emphasis on post-war nation building. I think it's high time conservatives made it clear that our tenuous alliance with liberal interventionists was one of expedience, that we look at the world in profoundly different ways, and that much of their recent criticism of the war's conduct is simply irrelevant to what I consider to be our objectives.