January 08, 2006

Zbigniew Brzezinski Speaks

Count B.D. as a Zbigniew Brzezinski fan. He's one of the very keenest foreign policy minds in the entire country. He bucks conventional wisdom with refreshing frequency, and punctures empty bromides with sharpness and elan. What's more, he doesn't eagerly swallow the usual B.S. on proffer by either side of the aisle, and so is no one's patsy, water-carrier and sycophant. But reading his op-ed in today's WaPo, I can't help feeling that he's vastly underestimating the risks of large scale sectarian conflict should a vacuum ensue with major American troop withdrawals by late 2006, as he recommends in his piece. Brzezinski writes:

Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters -- i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army -- is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.

Moreover, neither the Shiites nor the Kurds are likely to subordinate their specific interests to a unified Iraq with a genuine, single national army. As the haggling over the new government has already shown, the two dominant forces in Iraq -- the religious Shiite alliance and the separatist Kurds -- share a common interest in preventing a restoration of Sunni domination, with each determined to retain a separate military capacity for asserting its own specific interests, largely at the cost of the Sunnis. A truly national army in that context is a delusion. Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation.

The administration's definition of "defeat" is similarly misleading. Official and unofficial spokesmen often speak in terms that recall the apocalyptic predictions made earlier regarding the consequences of American failure to win in Vietnam: dominoes falling, the region exploding and U.S. power discredited. An added touch is the notion that the Iraqi insurgents will then navigate the Atlantic and wage terrorism on the American homeland.

The real choice that needs to be faced is between:

An acceptance of the complex post-Hussein Iraqi realities through a relatively prompt military disengagement -- which would include a period of transitional and initially even intensified political strife as the dust settled and as authentic Iraqi majorities fashioned their own political arrangements.

An inconclusive but prolonged military occupation lasting for years while an elusive goal is pursued.

It is doubtful, to say the least, that America's domestic political support for such a futile effort could long be sustained by slogans about Iraq's being "the central front in the global war on terrorism."

In contrast, a military disengagement by the end of 2006, derived from a more realistic definition of an adequate outcome, could ensure that desisting is not tantamount to losing. In an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and the Kurds -- who together account for close to 75 percent of the population -- the two peoples would share a common interest in Iraq's independence as a state. The Kurds, with their autonomy already amounting in effect to quasi-sovereignty, would otherwise be threatened by the Turks. And the Iraqi Shiites are first of all Arabs; they have no desire to be Iran's satellites. Some Sunnis, once they were aware that the U.S. occupation was drawing to a close and that soon they would be facing an overwhelming Shiite-Kurdish coalition, would be more inclined to accommodate the new political realities, especially when deprived of the rallying cry of resistance to a foreign occupier.

Some issues to flag. Yes, tis' true, Iraqis are Arabs and Iranians not. But no one who has been paying attention to developments among some of those fancying a Shi'a super-state in the south can deny the perils of even greater Iranian involvement, should the U.S. precipitously withdraw, as they and their allies carve out greater Iranian-infested quasi-lebensraum there. And yes, it's true people like Barzani and Talabani, on the Kurdish side of things, know full well out and out independence makes full-blown Turkish intervention very likely. This does act to restrain Kurdish maximalist desires, as Zbig B. points out. But too crude reverse Arabization in Kurdistan (harming some Turkomen caught up in the net as well, say), trouble-making in Kirkuk, potential assistance to PKK brethren across the border by some irredentist Kurds--all this makes heightened Turkish involvement likely as well.

My point in making these observations is simple. To use Kanaan Makiya's memorable and apropos phrase, by invading Iraq and unseating Saddam, we've unleashed the proverbial 'furies' in Iraq. They are raw, they are of historic force, they cannot be easily controlled. But no one but the United States, with its major investment of blood and treasure in Iraq, has a shot in hell of calibrating the political bargaining underway, monitoring the so nascent post-Saddam political structures, trying to create effective command and control from the Iraqi Defense Ministry to nascent Iraqi Army units on the ground, ensuring neighbor's interventions don't risk scuttling the overall nation-building project etc etc. Basically, making a real go of preserving a unitary state, with functioning, if wobbly, democratic structures.

Brzezinski seems to think the Iraqi political machinations underfoot have matured enough in nature that bargaining can normalize, and some rough, imperfect compromises can be hammered out by the Iraqis themselves without major American involvement. He also writes that the U.S. occupation is "increasingly hated". Really? I'd bet you more and more Sunnis in places like Ramadi are warming to the Americans, if ever so slightly. Why? They are increasingly dismayed by Zarqawi's indiscriminate slaughter of, not only Shi'a in Karbala and such predominately Shi'a locales, but also young Sunni recruits in their own towns. But, more important, they realize that, with the Americans gone, Shi'a paramilitary units (Wolf Brigades etc) will perhaps come and engage in the crudest sorts of Shi'a revanchism--massacring innocents and perhaps engaging in ethnic cleansing (some already underway), particularly in certain mixed population areas.

Iraq has been horrifically difficult (spare me Battle of La Somme number-crunching troll-ies. I'm speaking in terms of contemporary standards, for a war of choice, and let's us not forget the very significant Iraqi casualties either). Approximately 30 American servicemen have died there over the past two or three days. A Blackhawk went down today, five Marines died in Fallujah, and yesterday I.E.D.s and gunfire killed several soldiers in various locations throughout Iraq. We are angry at those who declared the war would be a "cakewalk", or that the war was in its "last throes," just as we are angry at the imbeciles in print media and the blogosphere who have declared victory from the safety of their PJs and keyboards. We are angry at these empty spinmeisters, many of them clueless cretins whose knowledge of the Middle East wouldn't fill a small thimble. We are angry too at crass Congresswoman intimating people like Jack Murtha are cowards, when he loves the Army, even if his policy recommendations are unsound, more deeply than perhaps any other serving member of the House. We are angry at the rank ignorance and near dereliction of duty of our Secretary of Defense, and the incredible lack of accountability his continuing presence in that job showcases. And, yes, the President has been a source of not inconsiderable frustration as well, his tepid and half-hearted emergence from a bubble of too uniform advice, of late, notwithstanding. But Bush does know, and he is hearing it from people like Zalmay Khalilzad, that a precipitous withdrawal could well portend disaster. And, as much as Democrats refuse to acknowledge it, I am near certain a Kerry Administration (given Kerry's campaign utterences and world-view) would have organized a too hasty retreat from Iraq with little consideration to what impact such a move would have had on the country's chances for emerging as a unitary and viable, if imperfect, democracy.

So you may protest this is but flawed policy wrapped in an illusion, that Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket no matter whether we stay or go. But I hear from foreign policy pros that the cause is not lost, that with patience, and with a multi-faceted strategy that has become increasingly sophisticated since the State Department took over more of the Iraq portfolio after Rumsfeld's sad bungling of Years 1 and 2, matters are improving and the project is salvageable. This may sound like a thin reed, all told, but it's perhaps better than Zbig B's too breezy "acceptance of the complex post-Hussein Iraqi realities." If "complex" means that the country could descend into large scale ethnic cleansing, or that Kurdish and Shi'a detention centers will sprout up with impunity, or that a Shi'a super-state with massive Iranian influence would sprout up in the South--well, let's at least be clear about what we could be talking about. More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at January 8, 2006 05:35 PM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

we heard this before... during 2004's election, you claimed that there would be measurable changes in direction with the new personnel shuffling.

That has yet to manifest itself. Once again, you're banking on some future even to change the President's innate stubbornness. I see no evidence in anything you (or anyone else, for that matter) have presented to convince me that he's changing his mind.

Granted, his mention of "mistakes" in the earlier years of the Iraq campaign was a change, his response to that mistake was to stay the course... hardly inspiring honesty or leadership.

As I wrote a while back, where's the beef?

Posted by: just me at January 8, 2006 07:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Apocalypse Redux? Dominoes falling throughout the autocratic and military dictorships of the Middle East? Muslim jihadists in rubber boats wading ashore with AK-47's and C4 Plastic strapped to their vests along the beaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to overthrow the infidels in the United States? Please, spare me from such Hollywood fantasies!That's just another delusion of the neo-cons surrounding Bush, as when they proposed that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be a cakewalk. And now Zbigniew Brzizinski has had the audacity to see the war in Iraq as a realistic, seasoned diplomat would in his op-ed commentary in The Washington Post. When he writes about letting the dust settle, I think that he accepts the fact that the low-grade civil war, which is happening while there are still substantial American soldiers in the country, will undoubtedly intensify upon our withdarwal from the country and devolve into a full-scale civil war between the insurgents and the various militias of the Kurds and Shiites. Instead of dozens of Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites murdered, we will see that number rise into the hundreds and perhaps even the thousands when the militias turn Iraq into a Beirut of urban guerilla warfare. I think that the various political parties in Iraq know that in the coming months and perhaps even years the politcial battleground will consist of ballots and bullets. And after all, it's their country, their lives and their collective destiny.
This was inevitable. The Bush administration let loose the "furies" that were repressed during Saddam's Stalinist dictatorship. And despite what General Pace states about the progress of democratic forces in Iraq amid all the chaos of a failed state, in Juan Cole's latest entry on his blog, Informed Comment, Cole published excerpts from the e-mail of a reporter, who has had fifteen years experience in Iraq. After the kidnapping of an American journalist, he had a meeting with one of the American commanders, who stated that the country is heading quickly toward full-scale civil war and advised all journalist to leave the country for their own safety. Now, who is the realist?, I ask you, General Pace as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration or that American military commander on the ground in Iraq?
Of course, the logical questions one should ask here is: Why didn't the Bush administration realize the historical situation that would arise with the fall of Saddam and the Baathists? And why did they under-estimate the furies percolating just beneath the surface prior to the invasion of Iraq?
The Bush administration is driven by neo-con idealogues rather than realists. When DOD Rumsfeld decided to provide body armor and armored vehicles only to the front line troops, he was making that decision based upon an idealogy, that the war would be conventional in nature, that is, big unit engagements, rather than the low intensity guerilla warfare employed by the insurgents. One would have to characterize his tenure as the head of DOD as delusional rather than incompetent, which is how one could label the tenure of President Bush and his syncophants. Rumsfeld simply discounted the possibility of guerilla warfare after the toppling of Saddam's statue on television.
Of course Zbig realizes that we have opened Pandora's box in the Middle East and there is no realistic, that is political way, to stuff the demons back into the box. Politically, American citizens have had it with the Bush administration's position on the Iraq War.
And I disagree with the possibilty of Turkey invading Kurdistan. Turkey wants acceptance into the EU; that is, it is looking to the West rather than to the East for its historical future. And Turkey has demonstrated how shrewdly it can deal in international affairs. In the build-up to the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration was rather presumptuous in its belief that the Turkish government would allow its country as a debarkation point for entry into Afghanistan. The Bush administration thought that a couple billion dollars would close the deal. Yet while American transport ships with American soldiers and materiel hepllessly circled off-shore in the Mediterranean Sea, the Turkisk parliament finally decided to pass on the offer and voted it down. It was quite a defeat for the neo-cons and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Imagine the chagrin the Bush administration felt when Turkey decided in a democratic debate to put its own national interest above those of the only superpower left. So much for the so-called neo-imperialism of the United States.
And Turkey has close ties to the EU. Turkish immigrants in Europe, especially Germany, who make up a substantial minority there, want to be seen as law-abiding citizens. They want none of the French fire drill antics that happened in October there. And Turkish immigrants send billions of dollar back to relatives in the old country. If Turkey would decide to invade Kurdistan, under the pretext of protecting its borders and seizing the oil fields in Mosul and Kirkuk, that action would just reinforce European suspicions about the crass duplicity of "Orientials," once an Ottoman always an Ottoman, and there would probably be a right-wing backlash and reactionary progroms against Turkisk immigrants throughout Europe.
And Turkey has already experienced terrorist attacks in its nation with the bombing of a British banks and two synagogues, and they still refused to joint the coalition of willing. And in the current New York Review of Books, a reporter visited the Kurdish region and reported how the Turkish government has drawn back its national army and finally allowed its Kurdish citizens to openly talk about the discriimation and repression that they have suffered under the draconian rule of the national army, something that was forbidden several years ago.
Of course, the most important question is how would Iran react to a civil war in Iraq. Mullah Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiites in the south, has repeatedly stated in his official pronouncements after the elections that he would never tolerate Iranian intervention into the domestic affairs of his country. That remains to be seen, how the Shiites in the south would react to an all-out civil war. Iran has really pledged one billion dollars in foreign aid to Iraq, due to its thirty-six billion surplus when the price of crude oil skyrocketed after the invasion of Iraq. And the Shiites in the south are negotiating with the Iranians about sharing port facilities on the Gulf of Arabia.I think that the Shiites in the south would undoubtedly rely upon the Iranians for military weapons and perhaps advanced command communications hardware to coordinate tactics in an urban warfare situation. But Iran would not invade Iraq, because the Bush administration would use that action as the pretext they have been waiting for to bomb the nuclear facilities that Iran holds so dearly. Besides Iran is much too pre-occupied with preparations for war against American forces in the spring, when they will theoretically have the means to turn enriched uranium into material needed for a protypical atomic bomb. So their plate is full right now, dealing with The Great Satan.
And events in Iraq are moving so quickly now. A convoy of twenty oil trucks supposedly protected by Iraqi soldiers was ambushed by the insurgents. The soldiers retreated after the insurgents had killed three Iraqi truck drivers and set many of the trucks on fire. The convoy was supposed to bring badly needed gas to Baghdad, which is now producing only one hour of electricity for the residents. And three Marines were killed in Fallujah around the same time. Didn't the American soldiers rid that city of insurgents after it levelled two-thirds of all the buildings during the siege after the November elections last year?
The Bush administraton, for all practical purposes, had set in motion all the political forces for a failed state on the order of Beirut during the 1970's and early 1980's. And in 1983, President Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon, where they were attacked by a suicide bomber driving his truck past the concrete barriers to the barracks that housed the sleeping soldiers. As I recall, 251 Marines were killed, and it was the greatest terrorist attacks against Americans prior to the 9/11 attacks. Did President Reagan give a speech, stating that despite the enormous loss of life, he was still committed to bringing an end to the civil war in Lebanon and a return to democracy? No, he withdrew the remaining Marines from Beirut, and the legacy of his tenure as President still remains high in polls of American citizens.

Posted by: George Hoffman at January 8, 2006 09:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And, as much as Democrats refuse to acknowledge it, I am near certain a Kerry Administration (given Kerry's campaign utterences and world-view) would have organized a too hasty retreat from Iraq with little consideration to what impact such a move would have had on the country's chances for emerging as a unitary and viable, if imperfect, democracy.

you know what Greg... I think you are half right. Kerry would have engineered a withdrawal without regard to whether or not a "unitary, viable, democracy" had been established in Iraq.

But given the (nearly?) chimeral nature of this "unitary, viable, democratic" Iraq, what would have been so bad about a policy that focussed on a "viable" Iraq solution?

Respectfully, I'd like to suggest that your ideas are little more than a suggestion that we navigate the channel between Scylla and Charybdis. At best its an iffy proposition, but you want us to do it with Bush at the helm -- a circumstance that guarantees disaster absent the intercession of The Fates.

So far, "faith based foreign policy" has been a failure, and it does not appear that The Fates will intervene -- at least not on behalf of Bush.


Posted by: lukasiak at January 8, 2006 09:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just to make trouble here....

Might there not be reason to think that an Iran bogged down in establishing a client Shiite government in Iraq would be less trouble in other ways? I'm not denying that an Iranian-dominated Iraq could be a bad thing, but to get to that point the Iranians would have to expend vastly more resources and run substantially greater risks than they have to this point. Moreover Arab hostility to the US in Iraq is mitigated by the fact that the United States and other Arab states cooperate closely in other areas. Arab hostility toward the Iranians should they replace the Americans in Iraq would be very much greater.

Mind you, I'm not drawing any conclusions. My own view -- which is not, I don't think, that different from Greg's -- is that we have a very competent man on the ground in Baghdad now, and if he thinks there is a chance of following last month's elections with the formation of a stable government we should back him up.

But I agree with Brzezinski that we cannot afford to do this indefinitely -- though I base my view more on material considerations than on what other countries think of us, and don't think announcing withdrawal plans is timely now. Greg is obviously sincere in laying out his view about what would be best for Iraq. My priority is what is best for the United States. Whether it make sense for the government to announce now a limit on the amount of time and resources America should devote to Iraq -- as I say, I don't think it does right now -- we need to be clear that this limit exists.

Posted by: Zathras at January 8, 2006 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zbigniew Brzezinski fan. He's one of the very keenest foreign policy minds in the entire country. He bucks conventional wisdom with refreshing frequency, and punctures empty bromides with sharpness and elan.

He sure steered Carter into treacherous waters, though. I thought so at the time, but I was amazed when I read Dobrynin's book that by the end of Carter's term Soviet leaders hated Brz so much for poisoning detente (even before Afghanistan) that they decided it made no difference to them whether Carter or Reagan would be President.

No, I don't believe everything Dobrynin wrote - he leaves important stuff out, deliberately, I think. But in this matter I see no reason to disagree with his assessment.

At the same time, I can spare some pity for Z.B., as a man whose wife was known (according to The Washingtonian) to cook him roadkill for dinner.

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 8, 2006 10:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, and the "mess" in Iraq was the major point of the affair: we kill terrorists and give Arab democracy a chance (including the chance to fail) at the same time: Why is the U.S. In Iraq?

Posted by: Solomon2 at January 8, 2006 10:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was hoping ZB was going to present a different framework than "victory or defeat" when he calls it a false strategic choice:

"Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."

It turns out he did, and thinks the real choice in Iraq is "Persist but lose" or "Desist and win". Which really sounds to me like "Cut and Run" since it confounds the meaning of victory with loss and defeat with saving the situation.

He buys into the calculus of "victory or defeat" and comes to his own conclusions about what to do now.

But before deciding on "real choices" I think it might help to agree first on some non-zero-sum metaphor to capture the reality of Iraq. Here is mine: Democratic Iraq is like a child born out of wedlock-- you can't put the baby back in the mother. We may argue mightily over its provenance and legitimacy, but can we act out of other than a consciousness of "paternal" or "maternal" responsibility for what will happen now? Zbig seems to think an orphanage will do while we concentrate on being "practical."

(Just an amateur's comments...my first time here...thanks).

Posted by: Rizalist at January 8, 2006 11:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We should expect a continued low-intensity conflict. The armed opposition has proven resilient. I am glad to hear that we are exploiting the rift between the (former?) rejectionists and Al Queda. Now we have to act as a buffer between the Shiites and the Sunnis; which means they will have to take turns being mad at us, depending on whom we are favoring at any given moment. Meanwhile the parties are still talking to each other, and that can't be a bad thing.

BTW Zbig does get a Keith Lockhart award for using the word "puppet" in describing the Iraqi interim govt. a while ago, I believe. Thanks, pal.

Posted by: Chuck Betz at January 8, 2006 11:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ya really think Sunnis in Ramadi are warming to us huh? I'm in the Army, I've been there. Dude, they hate us. You are so wrong. We couldn't travel outside our bases without armor and some very serious firepower. Why? Because they hate us. Even in our bases, we moved under arms. Why? Because they hate us. You are not safe there, anywhere. Because they hate us. I joined the Army because I considered myself a patriot and really wanted to serve my country in a noble cause. But after a year there and seeing what I saw; we are the bad guys. It really sucks to have to say that, but it's true.

Posted by: Alan at January 9, 2006 03:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

zbig sux zbigtime!

zbig never accomlished a one damn GOOD thing: saddam ascended by coup on his watch; the shah was overthrown; afghanistan invaded. we gave away the panama canal. severed ties with the ROC.

taking advice from him on foreign policy is like taking advice from howard dean on how to win a national campaign.

proving once again that the left is loony.

and so are you greg.

you like him becuase he liked ghwb and the whole staus quoist approach.

i tell you ONE thing zbig is good at: getting folk to belive he was a hawk when carter was a total appeaser - and still is.

the two of them are entirely responsible for the war we are now in: the problems we face with Iran; Iraq and al Qaeda ALL started on his watch.

his ideas now are just as bad.

pitifully bad.

i wish folks like him and scowcroft would just shut up. two LOSERS.
in the UK the old losers have class: when they lose they go away and shut up.

bret and zbig should be more british.

buhbyee.

Posted by: reliapundit at January 9, 2006 06:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There's very little chance the iraqis who've been occupied will get reconciled to US soldiers. They're tending to decide against foreign help in their insurgency, they're starting to not like those guys either. But that doesn't help us much at all.

Most of the guys who make little attacks on us get away with it. And we kill a lot of civilians. The only way we can get any popularity at all is by promoting civil war. if they're in a mood for civil war then it's "The americans aren't so bad, they kill a lot more sunnis than they kill our kind.". But this is not a good way to avod civil war.

What we do to oppose the civil war is to prevent large military units from forming; if we see them we bomb them. What we do to create civil war is to treat them as sunnis and shia and kurds, and try our damndest to get them to think of themselves in that framework. When we destroyed Fallujah and shia did nothing to stop us, that went a long way. When we agreed to stay ot of shia holy cities and let them run the places themselves, likewise. The more we do "shia good sunni bad" the more we promote civil war. But we do airstrikes on sunni militias in sunni cities, and we're careful not to train shia militias (posing as the iraqi army) heavy weapons, so that slows down civil war.

Look -- this whole thing isn't about trying to salvage something from iraq. Iraq is going to do whatever it does. This is only about salvaging political strength in the USA. That's why they're resisting spending money on it. Iraq has been written off, it's on life support, the question is how to pull the plug with minimal damage to the GOP.

Meanwhile our military officers in charge of the war are planning their hearts out, looking for ways to win anyway.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 9, 2006 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Reliapundit, it's time for your meds, again. This time, double the dose.

lukasiak: "you know what Greg... I think you are half right. Kerry would have engineered a withdrawal without regard to whether or not a "unitary, viable, democracy" had been established in Iraq.

But given the (nearly?) chimeral nature of this "unitary, viable, democratic" Iraq, what would have been so bad about a policy that focussed on a "viable" Iraq solution? "

At this point Greg, and all of the other neo-cons, have to retroactively justify their election year comments. After reassuring us that Bush would straighten up and fly right, it's clear that voting for the incumbent got us 'more of the same'. Gee golly, what a surprise. They're probably regretting that Kerry lost, in some ways. They'd have had a fine time blaming Kerry for losing Iraq, cheerfully ignoring the fact that it wasn't ours, and that Bush screwed it up from the start.

Posted by: Barry at January 9, 2006 02:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But I hear from foreign policy pros that the cause is not lost, that with patience, and with a multi-faceted strategy that has become increasingly sophisticated since the State Department took over more of the Iraq portfolio after Rumsfeld's sad bungling of Years 1 and 2, matters are improving and the project is salvageable.

If I were in a business meeting and someone said 'the project is salvageable' I would ask 'how much is it going to cost to find out?'. How many resources are we going to have to commit to the Iraq project in order to salvage it? No one seems to have an answer to that question. At this point I would even settle for an 'I don't know'; it would at least be an honest answer.

Posted by: BN at January 9, 2006 02:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

spare me Battle of La Somme number-crunching troll-ies. I'm speaking in terms of contemporary standards, for a war of choice, and let's us not forget the very significant Iraqi casualties either

I don't agree with everything you said in your post, but I really appreciate this aside. I'm very, very tired of chickenhawks tossing out lines like, "Why, we lost more men in three days at Tarawa! Buck up!" I dunno which is more infuriating, the obvious attempt to derail discussion, or the fact that the call to martial virtue so often comes from doughy-soft clowns who would never have made it through basic training -- had they even thought of enlisting. Rush Limbaugh is practically the poster boy for the breed.....

Posted by: sglover at January 9, 2006 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This interesting discussion, most of which is strongly critical of the current US Administration, is an excellent example of the challenges of attempting to manage complex systems. Most of the commenters have made tacit assumptions that there was an easy solution the Administration was too foolish/stubborn/ideologically hidebound (or pick your favorite descriptive) to implement. I'm sure it's comforting for them to assume that a few simple steps would lead to a wonderful conclusion--but such assumptions are just as "faith-based" as the ideas of the Administration, and (given the paucity of information in their possession) at least as likely to be "dead wrong" when viewed in retrospect.

The situation in Iraq was always complex--and always will be. That's the nature of human societies, even highly homogeneous ones. Even the best of the "experts" can't possibly account fully for all the variables, so they must construct models to do any analysis at all--and, without exception, every model is flawed.

So it's no surprise then that, as Reliapundit points out, Zbignew Brzezinski isn't always right in his judgements. In that, he's no different than everyone else. It's almost impossible to get one of these cases 100% right (in fact, it's probably fair to say that the next time an Administration does get something complex like this completely right will be the first time it's ever happened). No matter whose Administration was dealing with Iraq from 1979 forward, no matter what time period you're interested in, and no matter what policy choices the Administration made, they were going to be wrong on certain significant points. Iraq was always going to be a mess--only the specifics of the mess would change (to an extent unknowable in advance and able only to be estimated, in a "faith-based" manner rather than an objective one, in retrospect).

Pontifications about the past (to include exposition of Greg's multiple sources of anger) is, in the end, worth almost exactly the value of the paper and toner on which it's printed. The only worthwhile POLICY discussion is forward-looking, and the only possible path is iterative--try something, observe the reactions (including the previously unknowable second- and third-order effects) and try something else.

The US government will never get Iraq "right", because it can't. It's not even trying to--no one in the Administration is trying to develop a colony. The Iraqi government might get things mostly right, if the US can provide enough assistance to allow a government to form and develop the capacity to govern.

As for us voters, we have an opportunity in the Fall to make a statement about what we think should happen in a variety of areas, including Iraq. The fascinating question with regard to our foreign policy is whether "we the people" are serious enough about our future to avoid focusing too much of our attention on the past.

Posted by: Jem at January 9, 2006 06:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that the administration is set on withdrawal. And though it may be DOd reaction to States new influence the cutting of aid to Iraq indicates to me that no serious effort at stabilization is going to be made.

I believe our president is turning out to be George "cut n run" Bush.

And that the true believers are finding ways to regard any result as victory.

Posted by: angela at January 10, 2006 05:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jem: "As for us voters, we have an opportunity in the Fall to make a statement about what we think should happen in a variety of areas, including Iraq. The fascinating question with regard to our foreign policy is whether "we the people" are serious enough about our future to avoid focusing too much of our attention on the past."

You can tell when somebody's serious about the future by the fact that he/she doesn't toss the past out the window when thinking about the future. A perfect example was the 2004 elections, where right-wingers without number urged us to vote for Bush, because he'd somehow change his ways and make things work. Instead, we got more of the same, with a vengeance.

And you can tell when somebody's trying to con you, when he/she covers for failures, incompetancy and corruption by urging people to ignore the past.

Posted by: Barry at January 10, 2006 02:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Pontifications about the past (to include exposition of Greg's multiple sources of anger) is, in the end, worth almost exactly the value of the paper and toner on which it's printed. The only worthwhile POLICY discussion is forward-looking"

Looking at the past informs our view of the future.

Like, when we went into iraq it turned out our intelligence was deeply flawed. Since then we have had time to purge the CIA of analysts who'll report things that aren't expected of them.

And when we went into iraq our army was all shiny and new and ready to fight, and now they're kind of grond down.

The experience we had going into iraq is very important now that we're getting ready to start a war with iran that we have no idea how to end. It isn't exactly the same people, but it's a lot of the same people and it's the same team.

Shouldn't we look at what happened last time while we prepare for the next war? it might make the difference between stockpiling food and trade goods versus getting out of the country before it's too late.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 10, 2006 08:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Barry and J Thomas,
I certainly agree there is useful information available from reviewing the past, and I have no doubt (some of it based on personal experience) there are "lessons learned" affecting decision making regarding Iraq as we proceed. It turns out, though, that the past is less useful than we might wish in many respects, because we're not the only ones learning lessons and adapting our tactics, techniques and procedures.

The events of 2003-2005 are interesting history, but as many have pointed out over the years, policy makers don't have the luxury of taking a couple of years to compile information that is already known to exist about events where we have "ground truth" before making a decision. They must operate on incomplete data about a partially-understood situation with the certainty that there are unknowable second- and third-order effects that will flow from the choice. There are steps that can be taken to provide more complete data (which may or may not, in the end, provide better understanding of the situation--intelligence information is usually of uncertain quality, with sources rarely agreeing fully with each other, even if all concerned have no ulterior motive to distort their reporting), but a substantial amount of uncertainty always remains.

We can expect that any policy choice adopted will be at least partly wrong. Recrimminations over those choices are inevitable, because most of us want the policy to succeed--even if it wasn't our prefered option. But the more vehemently partisan the criticism, the less likely it is to engender an improvement in the various processes (for most leaders, it's human nature to dig in one's heels when under attack).

The bottom line is that there are no "do overs". The situation of 2003 which these newly enlightened perspective addresses doesn't exist and never will again. The past gives suggestions, but it will be decades (if ever) before anyone can realistically assert the "lessons of history" will have hardened into a set of iron laws. And those laws will apply only partially to whatever situation the policy makers are trying to affect in 2036.

Posted by: Jem at January 11, 2006 06:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guess he has gotten much better since he was the NSA for Jimmy.

I believe he was the one who first spotted the killer rabit that was trying to attack dear old Jimmy.

That possible attack surely effected his advice to Jimmy.

Posted by: joe at January 12, 2006 07:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jem, the basic lesson I have learned from the last few years is about the competence of the people who made the original decision. They made the choce, then they told their underlings to make it happen. No second guessing, no second thoghts, no consideration of evidence.

So my conclusion at this point is: no more wars of choice until these guys are choosing. Get Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and akk their appointees gone (except those who remain on merit), and then we'll see.

If some foreign nation attacks us because we didn't asttack them first then OK, it's their turn. No more first strikes until we get somebody competent in charge.

Sure, things are different now. But there is no reason to predict that these same people have learned better methods. So no more wars of choice by them.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 12, 2006 07:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, that should have been "no more wars of choice while these guys are choosing".

Posted by: J Thomas at January 12, 2006 07:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JJem: "The events of 2003-2005 are interesting history, but as many have pointed out over the years, policy makers don't have the luxury of taking a couple of years to compile information that is already known to exist about events where we have "ground truth" before making a decision. They must operate on incomplete data about a partially-understood situation with the certainty that there are unknowable second- and third-order effects that will flow from the choice. "

And what does this have to do with what happened? What really happened was that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, etc., were hot for Iraq before 9/11, and used 9/11 as an excuse. Data was ignored if it disagreed with policy, and lies were generated.

Your comments just add weight to my previous comment that those who advocate ignoring recent history are doing it specifically to cover up the lies, fraud and incompetancy of those whom they support.

Posted by: Barry at January 16, 2006 02:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Masterful analysis in the lead post.

I agree ZB is one of the sharpest knives in the drawer and tends to buck conventional thinking. I concur wholeheartedly with his statement ...

"Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation."

Bush needs to stop the "victory" cant. It's one thing to win a conventional war against a standing army, and quite another matter to secure "victory" against a deadly and ephemeral foe.

However human and understandable the initial intelligence bungling was that led up to the momentous decision to go in... this "mistake" has nonetheless resulted in negative spin-offs of monumental proportions. Up until recently Bush has persisted in his myopic perversity, maintaining a steadfast posture of denial in the face of indisputable facts.

The recent "victory" rhetoric shows how far this administration has drifted from a grip on reality. Short of intervention by the heavenly host, there is no way the U.S. military can secure the type of "victory" Bush has been peddling for domestic consumption.

A standing army, no matter how professional and equipped, can never hope to achieve total victory against a faceless foe that blends with the local population and strikes from the shadows at will. In all the years of the Irish troubles, the British army was unable to secure a final miltary victory against Provisional I.R.A. volunteers, many of them mere teenagers - and Ulster is miniscule compared to Iraq.

The best the Americans can hope for now is an orderly transfer of authority, and a phased withdrawal with a relative degree of honor. This continued cant about "victory" bears little relation to the type of fight the U.S. and its allies are engaged in.

What really astounds me even more than these intelligence screw ups, is that the administration NEVER appeared to understand the type of fight they were walking into. Who the hell were they taking advice from? What also continues to astound me is that hardline "dead enders" (irony intended) in the Republican ranks - continue to cling to the illusion of victory with flags-a-flying.

Posted by: Aidan Maconachy at January 16, 2006 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

22

Posted by: Aidan Maconachy at January 17, 2006 01:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Three points:

1) Just because the Sunni Arabs are starting to tire of Zarqawi doesn't mean they want the Americans to take care of business for them. The Iraqi insurgency is multifaceted, and Zarqawi is only one element. I wouldn't be surprised if Zarqawi takes credit for actions committed by non-Islamists in the insurgency...but there is no way to know how much control Zarqawi really has in it.

2) Greg's outlook is strangely similar to that of Juan Cole. In his "top ten myths about Iraq in 2005" Cole made the important point that just because things are bad in Iraq doesn't mean they wouldn't get much worse if the US precipitously withdrew.

3) I would not be surprised if, within two years, the Sunni insurgents become US allies. With a Shi'ite super-state in the South, and under the influence of a nuclearized - or imminently nuclearized - Iran, the US may seek a strong buffer state to Iran. And whatever the Sunni insurgents may think of America, they despise Iran.

Posted by: Elrod at January 19, 2006 05:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Points well taken Elrod.

I do think the U.S. should stay the course and gauge its withdrawal based on developments on the ground. This is a crucially important undertaking and the calls of people like Murtha to pull up stakes and exit stage left is just plain wrong.

The recent split in insurgent ranks changes the nature of the game. Your comments about a closer alliance between Sunni fighters and U.S. forces is a possibility. There are so many variables at play though, it's hard to say what way the chips will fall.

The administration needs to tone down the victory rhetoric, because by holding to this they are putting U.S. forces in a false position. This can indeed be "won", but we probably won't even know when we have turned that corner.

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