Archive for the ‘Iraq’ category

As The WarCons Reunite, Let Us Trip Down Memory Lane

April 7, 2015

Twelve years ago today, Donald Rumsfeld composed this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.37.26 AM

(h/t Rob Golan-Vilella)

As the entire Republican party brays for war in Syria, Iran, Ukraine, wherever next…remember:  their reunion tour will make us long for Nickleback.

That bad.

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Porcine Flight 476, You Are Cleared For Landing

June 20, 2014

Go check on your friendly neigbhorhood Sus scrofa.  Examine the potbellied porker ambling down your too-hip avenue.  Make sure the boar in the corner sty (you could name it Dick Cheney if you’re that kind of person) is still properly rooting about in his muck.  Now look extra carefully:  any ailerons, flaps, wings?

Max_Liebermann_-_Schweinekoben,_Wochenstube

They’ve got to be there.  See this, from our old friend BoBo:

The Iraqi state is much weaker than the Rwandan one, but, even so, this quick survey underlines the wisdom of the approach the Obama administration is gesturing toward in Iraq: Use limited military force to weaken those who are trying to bring in violence from outside; focus most on the political; round up a regional coalition that will pressure Iraqi elites in this post-election moment to form an inclusive new government. [Emphasis added.]

Now I confess to deep uneasiness about everything David Brooks writes, given the argument from negative authority.*  I lack the knowledge to assess but have no faith at all that his potted history of post-genocide Rwanda is reliable.  And then there’s Brooks’ usual reflexive nod to the political value of elite authoritarianism.   Most of all, nowhere does Brooks acknowledge explicitly that the Bush years were a colossal f**king mistake/moral disaster, nor that he was a complicit cheerleader in that catastrophe.

But here you see Brooks implicitly acknowledging the failure of the neocon adventure and, mirabile dictu stating without a hedge, an “on the other hand” or any qualifier that President Obama is getting it right, is wise.

Smacked in the gob am I.

All I can say is:  be careful standing under today as those flocks of pigs fly by.

*I.e. While it’s never reliable to say that because someone is labelled an expert in something, anything they say is likely right (see, e.g. Shockley, William…), it is a very useful heuristic to assume that someone who is wrong a lot is going to be similarly wrong going forward.  That’s especially true for someone — so many in our pundit class — who are wrong for a living.

Image:  Max Liebermann, Schweinekoben, Wochenstube [My German sucks, but the Google machine tells me that this could be read as “Pigsty, Maternity room” — any help from the commentariat gratefully received], 1887

Q: Iz Tom Friedman Learning?

July 25, 2012

A:  No.

When last we checked in on the moustache of wisdom, we learned the real reason we should start a war with Iraq.

One would have thought that would be the end of Tom Friedman as someone anyone could take seriously.  Hell, it should have been the start of the time people spat on the sidewalk as he passed them by.

But, of course, because we have been so well and benevolently led by our elites, Tom of the Married Fortune and Unmerited Influence continues to opine about the sacrifice and loss others should undertake in the service of his worldview.

Exhibit A:

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again. But Iraq is relevant here. The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics. My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

 

A little fisking seems in order.

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again.

You don’t.  We do.  Why? 

Because adults (and lots of children, in fact) understand that the best way to avoid repeating colossal f*ck ups is to try to understand what went wrong.  You know, talk about how we got into that war (lookin’ at you, little Tommie) how we planned for the post-combat phase (lookin’ at you George W. Bush and all your feckless minions) understanding the full weight of the losses incurred both by the US and the Iraqis we sought to liberate from oppression (in the best but certainly not an exclusive reading of our mission).  It would be useful to have some real inquiry into what fighting that war on those justifications did to the US, both in terms of human and material loss, and in terms of the damage done to our polity and society.  We used to be able to say that torture was everywhere and always illegal. Not anymore, bro…..Hell you get the idea.

Tom Friedman has an obvious motive to cry silence on the Iraq war; otherwise, his unblemished record of wrong — and of abject moral failure — would continue to get trotted out for a look-see.  As here.

The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops.

Counterfactual not in evidence. “The only reason?”  Could sanctions have worked?  Could a Libya style involvement have been possible.  What about creating an independent Kurdistan in the north and starting from there?  I’m not saying any of these things would work, or even were plausibly good ideas at the time — but the “only reason” trope exists only to crush the possibility of argument over a claim that can’t be tested.  Gutless reasoning in other words.

And then there is the carefully worded phrase “any chance for a decent outcome.”

Begs the question, don’t it? How much of a chance do you need for a war of choice to have been justified on any interest calculation?  And what are those chances anyway?  From Friedman’s own employer:

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out one of the most coordinated and baldly sectarian series of attacks in years on Monday, aiming for Shiite targets with car bombs, checkpoint ambushes, and assaults on a military base and police officers in their homes in an offensive that its leadership appeared to equate with the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria.

The offensive, coming in the early days of Ramadan, the monthlong religious rite of fasting by day and feasting by night, was without precedent over the past few years, at least in the sheer number of attacks, spread over so many locations in a third of Iraq’s 18 provinces, from north to south.

It raised new concerns about the government’s ability to contain the violence, six months after the last American troops left the country following more than eight years of occupation and civil war that upended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led minority power base and empowered Iraq’s long-repressed Shiite majority.

“I think Al Qaeda in Iraq made a big joke of the government and the Iraqi security forces,” said Khalid Fadel, a military analyst and former instructor at the Iraqi Military College. “They were so clear that they were going to launch attacks during Ramadan, and the government said that they have information of about 30 terrorist groups entering the country, but still the security forces are unable to prevent the attacks.”

Look.  Maybe Friedman is right for once, though nothing in past performance suggests that I should count on anything but the triumph of hope over experience.  It would indeed be great if all that price paid in Iraq by all parties did create a foundation for peaceful social and public life in that country. (Though again, it’s important to remember Friedman’s classic mission creep.  Success is here defined not as t meeting our own pre-conflict objectives, the ambition to assert a Pax Americana in the Middle East and in the prevention of terrorist attacks, but rather by our i serving some grand missionary role to bring democracy to the great unwashed.)  But  in the face of the ongoing civil strife In Iraq, it’s simple counterfactual folly to argue that the US intervention in Iraq can be held up as successful.

Onwards!…and a little detour.

Check out this phrase:

America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife

It’s possible to be a bad writer and a good thinker, though that’s a trick that’s harder than it looks.  But it continues to amaze me just how brutal an abuser of the English language is Tom Friedman.  Think of  all the richness of imagery and allusion of which the language is capable, and wonder at the epithet “that well armed midwife.”  It’s going to take some time before I can get the image of the US as a woman bending over the baby Jesus’s birthing table (see above), M-16 at her hip.  Shakespeare wept!

Wait! There’s more.  Friedman characterizes the US in Iraq as

reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides

WTF?  Were we ever trusted by any side?  This is just wishful rewriting of the actual skein of conflict in Iraq.  Pure nonsense.  This is Friedman telling himself what he wants — really has — to believe in  order not to see an imbecile with blood on his hands everytime he looks in a mirror.

And now to Fisk’s end:

My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

Your gut?  Your F*cking Gut! Jesus, Mary and the mule, dude, only connect the dots for once in your life!

Your gut…

…is the least reliable organ of sense since Tatiana beheld Bottom.

No one — and I mean absolutely no human being with a capacity for reason above that of a ficus — cares about your indigestion.  If you don’t have anything better to base your opinion on, Shut. The. Hell. Up.

To be fair to a man who still sports the least convincing porn ‘stache in public life, Friedman in this column does admit that American intervention in Syria isn’t going to happen.  He concees, several paragraphs below the one dissected above that Iraq is not IRL a satisfactorily emerging democracy.  And he even recognizes that the situation in Syria is beyond our control, and unlikely to meet our desires.

But such moments of hungover clarity don’t count for much with me in a column so soaked with nostalgia for the time when the Friedmans of our governing class could tell the world to “suck on this,” and the US would send in the troops  in the service of middle-aged men’s fantasies.

Channeling my inner Brad DeLong:  why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

Image:  Lorenzo Lotto, The Birth of Jesus, 1527-28.

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617.

 

 

Things To Think About Before We Blow Sh*t Up

March 27, 2012

James Fallows pointed me to this depressingly smart piece by Stephen M. Walt, up now at the Foreign Policy website.  Walt gives us 10 lessons we should learn from our Iraq fiasco, from number 1 — we lost — through the point Fallows highlights, number 3, in which we learn what happens when the political and media Villages rush to outdo each other in feckless groupthink and morally bankrupt cheerleading folly.*

Me, I’ll  pony up Walt’s conclusion:

Because it is not clear if any U.S. approach would have succeeded at an acceptable cost, the real lesson of Iraq is not to do stupid things like this again.

The U.S. military has many virtues, but it is not good at running other countries. And it is not likely to get much better at it with practice. We have a capital-intensive army that places a premium on firepower, and we are a country whose own unusual, melting-pot history has made us less sensitive to the enduring power of nationalism, ethnicity, and other local forces.

Furthermore, because the United States is basically incredibly secure, it is impossible to sustain public support for long and grinding wars of occupation. Once it becomes clear that we face a lengthy and messy struggle, the American people quite properly begin to ask why we are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of lives into some strategic backwater. And they are right.

So my last lesson is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to do this sort of thing better, because we’re never going to do it well and it will rarely be vital to our overall security. Instead, we ought to work harder on developing an approach to the world that minimizes the risk of getting ourselves into this kind of war again.

In between Walt’s insistence that we honestly confront our loss in Iraq and this rather pious last hope, this short essay examines many important, depressing truths.  Read the whole thing.  We’ll need to keep reminding selves and others of these desperately hard-won realizations, given that the usual suspects, only to willing to spend somebody else’s blood, are urging us into the next war.

(And yes. I know I’ve posted this tune before. You gonna make something of it?)

*No matter how often I watch the Mustache of Understanding talk about “American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Bagdad,” his faux-macho willingness to send other folks kids to blow up still other folks and their kids makes me mouth vomit.

Image:  Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, (attr.) Laughing Fool, c. 1500.

For All Those Who Have Died In Misconceived Wars of Choice Since 9/11

September 11, 2010

Quickie Post, to let you know that David Brooks has finally revealed the secrets of conservative math.

March 23, 2010

I’m on the road again in yet one more Newtonpalooza, so no substantive posting is going to happen, but I saw in my morning check of Balloon Juice (the only source for news you can really use) that David Brooks has produced another of his considered analyses to explain the real meaning of critical events.

The whole thing is yet one more sample of the unique combination of credulousness and really dangerous hackery-in-defense-of-establishment-power that characterizes Mr. Brooks’ work, and I’m going to try to go blog-medieval on it in the near future.   But here I just want to point out the implications of the delicious sentence that Mr. Brooks writes one truly revealing sentence, the one quoted by DougJ in his BJ snark:

Nobody knows how this bill will work out. It is an undertaking exponentially more complex than the Iraq war, for example.

The overt dumbness has already been dealt with at Balloon Juice.

As the commenters there point out, the only honest response is “Uh…..noes.”  It is also all you need to explain why the GOP so badly botched everything about that war.  They thought and think this is true, that destroying a country and rebuilding would be simpler and cheaper than regulating insurance companies.

(On that note — about two years into the Iraq war I had the chance to talk, completely informally with Madeleine Albright.  Among much else interesting, she told me that in the briefing she and other former high-ranking Clinton and Bush I officials received in the run-up to the war, the Rumsfeld DOD had made essentially no after-conflict plans, which we know now to be exactly right.  She told me she raised the thought that this was wrong, that real post-conflict planning had to be done to deal with all kinds of things, from the vacuum in civil power to economic matters.  She was, she said, brushed off by the Bush version of the Best and the Brightest — the So-So and the Not-Quite-Set-To-Be-Watered-Twice-A-Day).

But enough of ancient history.  I’m still wallowing in the mess of trying to understand  Mr. Brooks tortured diction.  Just what the hell could he mean by “exponentially” in this context?

Well — math jokes are not for amateurs, and I certainly don’t want to dive into xkcd territory (No! No! No!  Quantum leaps are really smalllllll), but it occurs to me that Mr. Brooks’ statement is more than usually meaningless if you don’t know what exponent he’s thinking about.

And then it became clear.  The only way any of Mr. Brooks’ attempts to assert some connection between his thought and that fundamental tool of science, mathematical reasoning actually makes sense, given the gap between reality and his accounts of it, is if that exponent contains the factor “i.”

That is all.

Image:  Nicolas Neufchâtel, “Nürnberger Schoolmaster Johann Neudörffer and a Student,” 1561.

Why understanding e-mail might matter for a President

September 11, 2008

Lovable Liberal has a very smart post up that drills into Bob Woodward’s new book.  LL focuses on the claimt that the reduction of violence in Iraq derives not from the so-called surge, but from, primus inter pares, a targeted assassination program.

That’s part’s been well covered, of course, but LL makes a deeper argument:    such a campaign requires — as Woodward himself implied (see LL’s post for details) — a major technological effort to extract the intelligence needed to track and fix the intended targets.

If so, and I think LL is himself on target here, then this is a genuine success for an approach to war that emphasizes the use of machines, money and smarts instead of our side’s lives to achieve our ends.

It also — and here I’m going past LL’s argument — provides another reason why John McCain would be a terrible choice for commander in chief right now.

That is: by this time I think even the neaderthal wing of the blogosphere would be forced to concede that McCain is not exactly what you would call a technology-savvy indivdual.  I mean, we’re not talking about a mad lack of gaming skillz, or a peculiar lack of interest in Python coding. E-mail, man, e-mail.  This is someone who as of a month or so ago still had to have his staffers explain that he was “aware of the internet.”

I’m so relieved.

*

Now this stuff got a flurry of attention at the time McCain’s chisel-and-slate approach to modern communications first bubbled to the surface, but Woodward’s story and LL’s gloss point to why this stuff actually matters.

Recall that McCain has famously said that he “knows how to win wars.”

Actually, as this latest story suggests, he does not.

What McCain knows  how to do, at its most charitable, is start wars, and then when they go south, to escalate them in the hopes that enough Americans at risk can correct the errors of the old men who sent the first lot of Americans in harm’s way.

In that McCain is fully embedded in what strategic thinkers now somewhat derisively term “The American Way of War.”

The fact that he has now embraced the simplest end of counter-insurgency and “small-wars” ideas does not correct for the underlying problem that (a) he has no grasp of the historical, political and social context of the conflicts he wants to fight (which is why the “success” of the surge ™ has not actually produced the political outcomes sought, nor the commercial benefits we once sought) as even a few of the more honest of his supporters will now agree….

And that (b): Experience doesn’t help if it’s the wrong experience.

I’m just saying:  you can’t be ready on day one to be Commander in Chief running conflicts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan borderlands, North Korean nukes and all the rest if you can’t send your grandchild a birthday e-mail.  Sometimes it really is that simple.

*reposted because it is (a) right on target and (b) too quantitatively fascinating** not to watch twice.

**40 rods*** to the hogshead is the equivalent of 10.48 feet to the gallon, which may or may not say volumes about McCain’s energy policy.

***It is worth noting (really? –ed.) that a rod is also a pole or a perch.  You heard it here first (or second.)