The Iraq Election: First Impressions





Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com/.

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a"political earthquake" and"a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly"extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.

So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.

With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed"election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous?! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. (This is the part of the process that I called a"joke," and I stand by that.)

This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.

Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.

Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another"Mission Accomplished" moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed"election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it.

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Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Moshe,

"Perhaps it is time we starting asking why Afghanistan worked and Iraq, in my humble opinion, has not."

From all accounts that I have read, Afghanistan is dominated throughout the country by local warlords. Kabul is the only area the Afghan government has some reasonable control and that is due to a strong US military presence. Opium production is at a pre-Taliban high with an estimated 140 tons processed. The US and Afghan military rarely venture from secure compounds and Bin Laden is said to move freely in country. As proof, Bin Laden has not seemed to have any difficulty releasing messages to the world at his leisure. I beg to differ with your belief that Afghanistan's occupation and elections have worked to stabilize the country.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Mahan,

I do not want to trivialize the fear that the spread of Communism presented to the West in Indochina and throughout the world. I only want to state that the Vietnam War was much more complicated than a full scale effort to prevent the Domino Effect from sweeping through the south Pacific. Secondly, you are correct in that my use of the term 'Americanization' should be changed to 'Vietnamization'. I get carried away when writing to this site but, it may be a Freudian slip on my part... Didn't the US try to Americanize Vietnam? Isn't the US currently trying to Americanize Iraq?

I had an interesting conversation this afternoon with my neighbor who pulled two tours in Vietnam between 1967 and 1970... A 25 year Army Vet, he believes that to the Vietnamese communism was only a tool to garner Soviet and Chinese military support in their drive for a unified national front. Ho Chi Minh would have changed allegiance to any ideology, or the devil for that matter, as long as it led to a free, unified Vietnam. Ho joined the Communist Party in 1920 but had many ties/ financier from the West. My neighbor believed the war was fought by the Vietnamese strictly based on nationalism. As we see today Vietnam is moving ahead at full speed toward a market economy and communism, more precisely totalitarianism, is loosing its grip on this free wheeling nation.

I believe you are only partially correct when you state "But not to America, we didn't care about religion or nationalism." Let's examine. Firstly, religion. At the wars start church leaders, in particular the Catholic Church, were outspoken supporters of American intervention in Vietnam. Remember, Vietnam was a heavily Catholic nation thanks to 300 years of French Catholic Missionary indoctrination. Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Madame Nhu were staunch Catholics. Diem's oldest brother Thuc was Archbishop of Saigon and extremely influential not only in Church policy but in government policy as well. Conversely, Vietnamese Buddhists led many of the uprisings in the South. Tri Quang, the most powerful of the Buddhists commanded personal meetings with Diem. Almost unheard of with the reclusive president. As you may recall the June 1963 photo a monk igniting himself on fire using gasoline splashed across the worldwide wire and sparked similar suicidal protests by other devotees. American Catholics (wasn't JFK Catholic) versus Vietnamese Buddhists... Religion, no relevance here.

Moving along to nationalism... Where to begin... American efforts in Korea ended in stalemate, the Soviets were light years ahead of us in the space race, Mao had the bomb, Dr. Strangelove was a hit movie, Ike was out/ Kennedy was dead, Hippies openly challenged society, Rock-n-Roll made your parents roll over... No nationalism played no part in the American mindset... As a kid I remember the parades on Veterans Day and Memorial Day... You know "America, Love It or leave It"... Nationalism, no relevance here either.

I do take exception and am personally outraged at your comment "I have heard many exclaim that America lost the war in Vietnam. It appears to give some a kind of perverse joy, but the fact is that America withdrew its troops. America could have trashed the whole region or used its nuclear capability had we found it necessary, yet it was more strategic to merely fade away, a testament to the various capabilities of American geopolitical diplomacy." I in no way would ever take take joy or gloat in the fact that 58000 dead men and women died in brave service for this great nation. I am only 44 years old and am what I call a Vietnam Baby. I watched as Walter Cronkite, Ed Bradley, Morley Safer and Dan Rather reported to the home-front each night. I cried at the military funeral of my neighbor who lost his life in 1969 in a little town called Nhatrang, I have hung my head in heartache at the Vietnam Wall on three separate occasions, I have spent volunteer hours at VA hospitals and have hired many Vietnam Veterans during my short career as a HR Manager. If anyone takes pride or a perverse joy in our failure in Vietnam then they are traitors to this nation and should be dealt with accordingly. However, the fact remains that the United states lost the Vietnam War. The excuse that "we pulled out" is the cowards excuse. I am sure Mr. Mahan, that you Sir are in no way, shape or form a coward and I would never insinuate that. But the facts remain that the US lost this war. The use of atomic weapons was considered by McNamara but passed over as barbaric, by LBJ of all people, and may have prompted the Soviets or Chinese to respond in kind.

Looking further along into your comments "It is simply delusional to think Iraqi’s are against us. Only a few terrorists are against the American liberation (well of course there are those western euros and wacko Americans that are as well) but generally all of the Iraqi citizenry are in favor of democratization of there nation and the human rights that go with it. Further, it is also delusional to think America is trying to install a “puppet government”, come on that’s right out of the liberal handbook, it’s just silly looking for black helicopters everywhere." Firstly, I am not a liberal. I am a registered Libertarian and probably more conservative than you are. There are 150-200k Iraqi insurgents fighting US forces. I would say that is more than a few. As far as Iraqi opinion as to the US staying in country I recommend you read blogs at Riverbend and Iraqi "Baghdad Burning" Blog Girl. The former is a physician blogging from outside Falluja the later a college educated professional blogging from inside Baghdad. Both have been sending satellite uplink reports from in country since the start of the invasion. I think you will have a changed opinion when you read these two women's first hand reports and will quite surprised how wrong you are about native opinion of the US occupation. Fox News is not a good place to learn about what's happening in Iraq. As for "puppet government" what do Chalabi, Bremer & the CPA and Allawi have in common... They have more wood in them than Howdy Doody... By the way where is that $9 billion in missing CPA funds? Our tax dollars mind you.

Lastly, please do not become delusional when you state "America and the current administration will be just as happy with Sistani’s group having most of the political power. This will probably be the case regardless of who’s the president, simple numbers. Don’t you think the administration is aware that there are more Shites than Sunni’s and Kurds? Did you know Sistani is against a theocracy? Sustani is not to be trusted. The Shites will fall into the Iranian sphere of influence at the first opportunity. Always remember, just as North Vietnam and South Vietnam have been totally inseparable for 4000 years so to are the Muslim Shites... BLOOD IS ALWAYS THICKER THAN WATER...

PS... Please do not refer to anyone who disagrees with you as "Wacko". No one wants this great nation to succeed in Iraq more than I. All I seek is intelligent/ logical discussion of he issue and a little humor to break the tension.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Koehler,

At last, someone who is truly paying attention. God Bless You. I know that neither yourself nor I want anything more than success for the United States and more importantly our troops and the the Iraqi people. The Bush Administration and the Straussian neo-cons of Kristol, Pearl, Feith, Pipes, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfield have grossly underestimated the cost of their errors. The families of the 1426 brave Americans who have given their lives for their miscalculations deserve answers.

Just as General Westmorland, who was man enough to speak the truth about Vietnam and others such as George Ball, Chester Bowles, Frank Church, McGeorge Bundy, Morton Halperin, Mike Mansfield, JW Fulbright, Daniel Ellsberg, Melvin Laird, Paul Warnke, Dean Acheson, Cyrus Vance and Vice Admiral James Stockdale, heroes all. for speaking out against the War on Vietnam. The current administrations Walter Rostow, Robert Komer, Lucien Conein, Eldridge Durbrow, Henry Kissinger, WA Harriman, HC Lodge, Roger Hilsman and the Dean Rusk's need to come forward and explain the failures to date of this second Iraq War.

If the Straussian neo-cons want to move onto Iran and Syria, with all signs now pointing in that direction regardless of what Ms. Rice states, how are they going to explain this to the mothers of our great nation when more 18 year olds are sent off to war. "Well it's one, two, three, four what are we fighting for... You know I don't give a damn... Next stop is Vietnam". It's the same old story, same old song and dance.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mr. Moshe and Haas,

You both seem to be very informed about conditions in Afghanistan. Have either of you traveled there? I have not but, once things settle, I am sure it would be a really interesting place to visit. Much of the information I have gathered over the years on Afghanistan has come through my subscription to the National Geographic magazine, writings on the Soviet invasion/ war and off beat internet sites.

I would hope that you are both correct in that Afghanistan is more stable now than in the recent past. The geographic location of the country as a strategic crossroad for east-west relations have made her history one of constant conflict.

One point that I found interesting was Mr. Haas' observation "Like the way there was little street crime in Mafia controlled neighborhoods?" It is my understanding that the warlords exact tariffs for any business transactions and are judge/jury/ executioner in any cases within their respective jurisdictions much like the Mafia. Not exactly my idea of participatory government.

Although a far cry from democracy or an organized state I guess you are both correct in that this is progress and that international aid groups have played a key role as pointed out by Mr. Moshe to make this happen. It's odd however that the Taliban appeared to have made Afghanistan a broader ranged, more cohesive state (other than the northern frontier) than any other political entity to date (albeit, at the smoking end of an AK47). So much so that the US officially recognized the Taliban and offered substantial financial aid shortly after they seized power. To no ones surprise the Taliban promptly refused.

In comparison with Iraq I disagree with Mr. Haas' point " that Iraq has (flypaper like) drawn off a lot of the actors who might be creating instability in Afghanistan were that our only theatre of operations in the Middle East?" In reading reports from Robert Fisk, Greg Palast, Alexander Cockburn, Riverbend and Iragi "Baghdad Burning" Blog Girl (the later two Iraqi women blogging from in country at the very beginning of the invasion). Very few of the insurgent fighters are outsiders. Estimates range from 150-200k fighters of which upwards of 95% are Iraqi's. Remember, Saddam was not too close to his neighbors and he kept a tight control of Iraq's borders. Iraqi's could not even make pilgrimage to Mecca and conversely Saudi's, Kuwaiti's and other Arabs were not welcome in Iraq.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Slaten,

Why do some revert to the base "Bush hater" defense instead of having an intelligent/ logical discussion about the issues. I do not totally agree/disagree with Mr. Pine's statements but no where did he express himself as a Bush hater. Mr. Pine would be better served providing details/ facts to substantiate his viewpoint.

If you have a disagreement with Mr. Pine please give us your detailed opinion and facts to argue your point.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Dear Mr. Pine,

Preventing the domino effect was only a small component of a much more complicated agenda for US foreign policy makers during the 1950's and 60's. Many factors dictated US involvement in the region. Just because Vietnam did not hold vast quantities of petroleum did not mean it was poor in natural resources. Also, the strategic location of the country in the power struggle between Britain and France made it an ideal location for the French to maintain a balance against the British in China and Indonesia. Vietnam has a 3000 year history as a lead trading nation with waterways that reach through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and southeastern China.

Vietnam has a rich history dating back to it's first established government under Chinese general Trieu Da in 208 BC and the formalization of a Vietnamese state in 40 AD following the revolt by the Trung sisters. In 1772 the Trayson Rebellion allowed French control of the nation to solidify. In 1941 Ho Chi Minh returns to Vietnam, after 30 years, to fight both the Japanese and French occupation forces. On May 7, 1954 the French were defeated at Dienbienphu leaving a vacuum in southeast Asia surely to be filled by Chinese influence. China, mitigated by the French for nearly 200 years over a region it traditionally held sway, would now resume it's role as the lead player in relation with Vietnam.

To check Chinese ambitions the United States began funneling aid to Saigon in 1955. If the US was so concerned about the so called Domino Effect why did it refuse to support the French in 1954? Why not use a surrogate like France to check communist expansion? Also, the Soviet Union, not be left out of the mix and needing to strike a balance against it's natural enemy China (not the US as some may believe) cast it's lot with Ho Chi Minh. The war itself was a mix of geopolitics, religion, nationalism and strategic necessity. The US did not in any way meet it's goals in Vietnam. Militarily, it was superior, in almost every respect to the NVA and Vietcong. Tactically, the US struggled as Generals like Vo Giap continually outmaneuvered and pressured US forces. Remember, TET was a major military defeat for the Vietcong yet a major moral victory. If the US had won the war we would still be in Vietnam today. The fact is that the United States grew wary of mounting casualties and the inability to confront a growing insurgency in the southern half of Vietnam. This coupled with mounting social problems at home led to our defeat. The US did not pull out of Vietnam on a whim. The US was defeated just as were the French.

I believe the major lesson from Vietnam is that Americanization does not work. For example the Strategic Hamlets Initiative resulted in pro-American Vietnamese turning on the United States. Just as in Iraq the actions of the US at Abu Grahib and Falluja has turned may Iraqi's against us. Elections returns are showing that pro-Sistani candidates are leading interim president Allawi's group. Remember the succession of dictators the US government foisted on South Vietnam in rigged elections... Diem, Doung Minh, Ky and Thieu... You state that "The US presence there has created a space for the Iraqis to begin to have a choice about who they want to govern them." Isn't it amazing that the Iraqi's may vote in a religious theocracy instead of the US preferred puppet government.

The similarities between Vietnam and Iraq are few but those few are eerily striking.


andy mahan - 9/19/2006

Mr. Ebbitt,

The “domino” effect or “containment” was not “a small component” to America’s involvement in Vietnam; it was the major impetus, all other concerns being “small” contributors to our involvement. Natural resources were not an issue. America did not benefit at all from Vietnam’s natural resources, as is the ill-conceived claim that we liberated Iraq for oil.

Strategic location? Yes. Vietnam’s location for America to take a stand against the spread of communism was ideal.

The French failure in Vietnam was the coup de gras of French military incompetence. It was the final defeat in decades of military failures. Vietnam finally relegated France to what it is today, a militarily impotent negotiator. “Refuse to support the French”? America didn’t refuse, in fact we did support as was necessary. Support is an entirely different concern than your implication that America should have been equally committed as of 1954 for containment to have been the reason for the war. The reason we were not is simply, we weren’t, and the reasons are as numerous as anyone’s imagination will allow. “Why didn’t we use a surrogate like France to check communist expansion”, because the French were incompetent and incapable. Still I don't see you assert a cause for the Vietnam War. What are your top 3?

You may say that the Vietnam War was “itself was a mix of geopolitics, religion, nationalism and strategic necessity.” But not to america, we didn't care about religion or nationalism. As far as America was concerned, only the containment aspect of geopolitics, strategic necessity was at issue. Ultimately, American involvement achieved its primary goal in Vietnam, which was to “contain communism.” As the 1960's passed the will of China and Russia to spread it’s ideology flagged as a result of witnessing America’s commitment in Southeast Asia along with their own internal problems. By 1970, the military investment was no longer as crucial and the cost of our involvement exceeded the benefit. Nonetheless had we not been as decisive all through the sixties there is a better than good chance that we would have had to fight a war against communist expansion closer to home (incidentally the same concern America now has with terrorism).

I have heard many exclaim that America lost the war in Vietnam. It appears to give some a kind of perverse joy, but the fact is that America withdrew its troops. America could have trashed the whole region or used its nuclear capability had we found it necessary, yet it was more strategic to merely fade away, a testament to the various capabilities of American geopolitical diplomacy.

Americanization? What’s that? I believe the major lesson is that you can’t shrink from or negotiate with an enemy that intends to harm you.

It is simply delusional to think Iraqi’s are against us. Only a few terrorists are against the American liberation (well of course there are those western euros and wacko Americans that are as well) but generally all of the Iraqi citizenry are in favor of democratization of there nation and the human rights that go with it. Further, it is also delusional to think America is trying to install a “puppet government”, come on that’s right out of the liberal handbook, it’s just silly looking for black helicopters everywhere.

America and the current administration will be just as happy with Sistani’s group having most of the political power. This will probably be the case regardless of who’s the president, simple numbers. Don’t you think the administration is aware that there are more Shites than Sunni’s and Kurds? Did you know Sistani is against a theocracy?


andy mahan - 9/19/2006

Mr. Koehler,
You are mistaken in that you don't understand the propagandist role the media played in the Vietnam War.
Sure you can whine and cry your partisan minutia but as was the case of successfully effecting American foreign policy in the '60's in Vietnam, we are again successfully affecting American policy by spreading democracy to an area of the world oppressed by criminals. Had our president not undertaken the inevitable that his father and later Clinton refused to address the advances in human rights and freedom would not be. Our foot is in the jamb and it will only be a matter of time that the other islamic theocracies will be exposed to their people for their exploitaion. The American policy of spreading democracy is admirable as it institutes freedom, raises the standard of living of all and is good for the global economy. Look at the broad picture Robert you will see that George W. Bush has changed the world never to be the same. At some future time an American president will be forced to do the same in Africa


andy mahan - 9/19/2006

Sorry if I misinterpreted your political argument as anti Bush partisanship but certainly you must understand that it is the exact argument touted ad nauseum by the anti Bush crowd and I couldn’t tell a difference.
As for the evolution of political parties in the past 35 years, certainly they have changed. They are less powerful than ever especially on the national scene and raising money is their primary function. Your choice to retreat is your choice but this system is still the best available for America today. I don’t deny that many disreputable people make their careers in politics and the knowledge of that should make you more effective in the process not less. Simply put it is the best we got.
I didn’t say, “that any group, party or cause has a monopoly over the media” I said the media was the major contributor to the negative public perception during the Vietnam War. Just a fact.
I think you know what was meant by my reference to democracy. Need we discuss the base semantics of the forms of government? After all which form has ever been perfectly demonstrated? And yes, America is today an excellent example of a representative democracy.
Our President absolutely brought democracy to the Middle East. Half of the American population and most of Europe cannot stop faulting him for it. Why do you think they are constantly excoriating our president for if he is ineffectual? Why the terrorists? The insurgents? Why the resistence from the majority of middleeast patriarchs? You are WRONG that democratization was not always the goal. Further, it is the outcome. Otherwise, can you describe without unsupportable accusations Bush’s purpose of ridding the world of Saddam?
If you really think that, “had George stopped after Afghanistan and not invaded Iraq you and I wouldn't be having this conversation because we would all be praising George”, you really don’t understand party politics. See it is the job of democrats to attack an incumbent Republican whether the charges are valid or not, they need to sling mud on him if they can praise would not be in the strategy.
Finally, America will not only survive the 21st century but it will thrive as our brave and principled president has ensured the furthering of a global environment that will facilitate American hegemony.


andy mahan - 9/19/2006

Thankfully so far we are not making the same mistake in Iraq. We are sticking with the people to ensure their will to democratize. Not that VietNam was not a resounding success in America's "containment" strategy but the people of South VietNam would have been better served had we been more aggressive militarily and refused to capitulate to the will of the American media and a small group of loud mouthed dope heads.


Jim H Gills - 7/4/2005

The Baath party is a socialist party, also during the monarchy Iraq did have elections for their assembly.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/10/2005

I concede that I may have Iraq confused with Iran (which I know DID have an election). However, I thought that there was a brief democracy in Iraq before the Ba'athist coup, one that was vaguely socialistic. Yet, I cannot remember, so I will concede.

As for the rest of the argument I can only make one observation. We do not have legal elections in this country while we have electronic voting. Ohio is the tip of the iceberg. This is not a partisan statement. It is simply the truth.

Sadly, my Evangelical friend cannot see but that the Satan he thinke he opposes is actually sitting on top of the White House. His "AntiChrist" (Armilus) will actually emerge here.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/10/2005

I concede that I may have Iraq confused with Iran (which I know DID have an election). However, I thought that there was a brief democracy in Iraq before the Ba'athist coup, one that was vaguely socialistic. Yet, I cannot remember, so I will concede.

As for the rest of the argument I can only make one observation. We do not have legal elections in this country while we have electronic voting. Ohio is the tip of the iceberg. This is not a partisan statement. It is simply the truth.

Sadly, my Evangelical friend cannot see but that the Satan he thinke he opposes is actually sitting on top of the White House. His "AntiChrist" (Armilus) will actually emerge here.


N. Friedman - 2/7/2005

Arnold,

In other word, you believe in dogma. I, for one, read books on all sides of an issue before I reach any conclusions.


Arnold Shcherban - 2/7/2005

Mr Friedman,

I don't need to read any book, since good books only
illustrate and confirm what I knew (at least - in principle) already (on the issues
I dare to debate), and bad books filled with lies and deliberate misinterpretations just affirm my opinion about
their authors and the ideological dogmas (like religion) they represent.
You are not dealing here with an ordinary man interested
in history and people; I'm the individual with unique
historical, political, and ideological sense, vision, and consequently, predictive powers that the ones like you
can only dream of having, the powers that I proved on multiple political and sociological issues.

Amen!


Jonathan Pine - 2/6/2005

Mr. Ebbitt,

Fine answer. You seem to know more than I do on this. I remember reading a book a long time ago called 'America's Longest War' written by a journalist whose name I've forgotten but he goes into those details. But I still partially disagree about the importance of the containment of communism at that time. Adding to the information in your informed response I think containment made up an equal component of the mix in that war.

Today, in the news, it was made known that the US administration does not want the Kurds to break away from the rest of Iraq which is worrying the Turks in southeastern Turkey. And Rice saying the US wants Iraq to remain whole makes me wonder about how much self-determination the people are going to have in that part of the world. And with Iraqi clerics pushing for Sharia law things could get uglier than ever.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2005

Arnold,

Try reading a book on the topic. Then, tell me I am wrong.


Arnold Shcherban - 2/6/2005

Mr. Friedman,

Your accusations against Muslims as striving for world hegemony would make the Pope choking with laughter and against me, like <you are standing with those who seek to stiffle freedom in the name of religion based imperialist hegemony> are in no lesser measure ludicrious, since I'm a firm atheist (and always been), rejecting any religion, including ideological dogmas.

But, of course you have your "freedom": to enjoy someone else's fantasmogorics.


Robert F. Koehler - 2/5/2005

The darn link!

http://www.csis.org/


Robert F. Koehler - 2/5/2005

Mr Ebbitt

Here is the link to the front page where the pdf file can be obtained. Its entitled "An Effective US Strategy for Iraq." There is also a great deal of other interesting stuff located there too. There is a lot wrong with America, but truth and facts are cannot be hidden or obfuscated for long. One redeeming virtue about America is that the truth always wills out in the end.


Robert F. Koehler - 2/5/2005

Mr. Ebbitt

A concise, correct historical presentation of the facts.

The Iraqi imbroglio started with the same incompetence and failure of national leadership as Nam did, but there are too many foreign policy analysts, civil servants, agents, diplomats and uniformed personnel from those times who have risen to put a stop to the intolerable juvenile ignorance of this administration. Neo-cons, agency political appointees and George himself have been effectively side lined into irrelevance concerning foreign policy, especially Iraq. It appears George has been encouraged, or maybe I should say forced, into bothering himself with Social Security Reform of which little will be accomplished and where other powerful interests will prevent him from doing any irreversible damage there.

Though enormous destruction to American prestige, power and our armed forces has been wrought and stuck in the sands of Iraq, far more fit, intelligent and worthy people have finally asserted their authority and mobilized the entire foreign policy and defense establishments towards sensible policies and actions. Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is one such leader and recently provided testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee this past 1 February. Some snippets:

"We also should recognize that we are where we are today as much because of nearly two years of avoidable failures in US policy and leadership as because of the inherent difficulties in helping Iraq become a stable and successful nation."

"We bypassed the Interagency process. We ignored warning after warning by US intelligence experts, State Department officials, military officers with experience in the region, and outside experts that we would not be greeted as liberators fighting a just war, but by a highly nationalistic and divided people who did not want outsiders and occupiers to determine their destiny."

"We planned fought the war to remove Saddam from power without any meaningful plan for stability operations and nation building. We allowed political and economic chaos to take place as we advanced and in the immediate aftermath of Saddam’s fall."

"We did not prepare our military forces for civil- military missions, to deal with terrorism and insurgency, to play the role of occupier in a nation with an alien religion, language and culture, or the have the mix of HUMINT and weapons they needed for the "war after the war." As a result, we forced our military to slowly adapt under pressure and in the face of a growing enemy."

"For a year, we assumed that a proconsul in the form of the CPA could govern Iraq and plan its future, rather than Iraqis. We staffed much of the CPA with inexperienced political appointees and ideologues that spent virtually all of their time in a secure enclave and only served for brief three to six month tours."

"For a year, we developed idealized plans for political reform that did not survive engagement with reality. We focused far too much on national elections and drafting a constitution without having a similar focus on effective governance at the national, regional, and local levels."

"For a year, we had military leadership in Iraq that would not work closely with the leadership of the CPA, and which lived in a state of denial about the level of popular hostility we faced and a steadily growing insurgency."

"For a year, we made no serious attempt to create Iraqi military, security, and police forces that could stand on their own in dealing with a growing insurgency, terrorism, and lawlessness. Instead, we saw such Iraq forces largely as a potential threat to our idealized democracy and felt our forces could easily defeat an insurgency of 5,000-6,000 former regime loyalists."

"For a year, we tried to deal with an Iraqi economy that was a command kleptocracy as if it could be quickly and easily converted to a modern market-driven economy. We sent in CPA advisors with no real experience and no continuity. We created a ridiculous long-term aid plan without a meaningful understanding or survey of the economic problems Iraq faced, an understanding of Iraqi needs and expectations, and the talent in either the US government or the contract community to implement such a plan or develop the kind of plans and programs focused on short and medium-term requirements that Iraq actually needed."

But the following Mr. Ebbitt warmed the cockles of my heart:

"We have moved Iraqi policy beyond the disastrous policy cluster in the Pentagon, weakened the hold of failed neoconservatives, and begun to implement a serious Interagency approach."

"America’s "neoconservatives" may be an unmitigated national disaster in shaping policy towards Iraq, and in virtually every other aspect of foreign policy they have managed to affect. We have seen, however, that realists, true area experts, and adaptive military professionals can produce far better answers and have already begun to compensate for many of our past mistakes."

"We cannot cease to advise, but we must cease to impose. Where outside support is needed, it also will always be better if it comes from the UN, the British, or some broader international effort and not from unilateral action by the US."

"...We need to stop lying to the Iraqis, the American people, and the world about our efforts to create Iraqi forces...We do not have 127,000 useful or meaningful men in these forces of the kind needed to fight an aggressive, experienced, and well-armed threat. We have somewhere around 7-11,000 that are beginning to have the training and some of the equipment necessary to directly engage insurgent forces."

"We need a clear declaration of our goals and principles. We do not need declarations of American values or general good intentions. We need clear and unambiguous statements from the President and Secretary of State that refute the key conspiracy theories that poison our relations and undercut the legitimacy of the Iraqi government."

"Let me conclude by saying that neither the positive actions we have taken during 2004, nor the proposals I have just made can guarantee success. We are beginning late and we have wasted precious time we did not have. Success was always uncertain, and the idea Iraq would suddenly emerge as a success that would transform the Middle East was always a fantasy that did little more than prove just how decoupled from reality America’s "neoconservatives" could be."

"To be blunt, we need a lot less lofty rhetoric, and a lot more pragmatic action...We don't need slogans; we need meaningful action."

For most of 2004 Cordesman, retired Generals Odom, Zinni and others were the spokesman for those in public service who couldn't speak publically, but all worked in unison to lay the groundwork to take charge when the President, neo-cons & assorted types failed. Colin Powell should be given the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his honor and his career for fighting a lonely rear-guard action against the usurpers from 9-11 on, in the isolated and besieged State Department. His side kick Armitage and unnamed others should get recognition too. Powell knew what he was doing when he told the President were losing the war, deliberately insinuating that no sane person could expect otherwise under his leadership. George in firing Powell merely saved him the inconvenience of resigning that was common knowledge for the past year. There is no love lost in that parting.

The US is not out of the woods and Cordesman and others like him give no rosy pictures of grandeur or bull over the challenges and difficulties ahead. Nor will the mess be straightened out over night, but with competent & honorable men & women taking charge we have at least got a half a**ed chance. There is a God!


Randll Reese Besch - 2/5/2005

Mr.Bates is confused it was a democratically elected gov't overthrown by the CIA to put in a dictatorial monarchy in Iran in 1953. In Iraq the Baathists were put in to rule over the people from a monarchy in 1958.
Blowback from Iran into Iraq in 1979 brought Saddam a partner he couldn't refuse. Till 1990 when GHW Bush turned on him,Saddam hadn't changed one iota during his reign, and attacked in 1991.
With this talk of perpetual war in the offing and with newly installed psychophant Dr. Rice to take the flack telling us that the war will go on as long as "insurgents" are their and we are too it will never end.
Oil and power are the keys. Bush told us he wants to remake both outside and inside the USA. That is ominous.


Jonathan Pine - 2/5/2005

which lead down too many ridiculous paths. Conspiracy theories are mostly used as quick outlets for frustrations vented on targets that seem unassailable.


N. Friedman - 2/5/2005

Adam,

You write: "I agree that force must be used to drive a wedge between moderate Muslims and Jihadists. The only problem is that the conflict in Iraq has only intensified anti-American feelings in many nations and prompted many Muslims to be sympathetic to bin Laden where they could otherwise have been allies in the war on terror. This is to say nothing of the fact that the conflict has severely retarded our ability to address genuine threats to our national security, such as the one posed by Iran. An America fresh from the world-supported conflict and rebuilding in Afghanistan and a leader in an international coalition against terrorism would be in a far stronger position than the pariah-like status that is rightly or wrongly attributed to us in much of the Islamic, and NON-Islamic world."

I am not sure I quite agree with everything you say here. In particular, I do not think it much pertinent that we may have - as if a poll had been taken whereby we might actually measure these things - increased sympathy for bin Laden.

My view - and this is based on the Bat Ye'or theory - is that the base mode, so to speak, of Islam is extreme hostility to non-Muslims. Such was the case - as she shows rather well in her various books - until the time that the European countries conquered almost all of the Muslim countries at which point hostility was an impractical attitude.

Once, however, the yoke of colonialism was removed, Muslim dominated countries have slowly but surely - and no longer so slowly - returned to their own self (i.e. returned to the base mode). The difference between now and the past is that there has been some exposure to other ideas so that there is an internal debate, so to speak, between those who favor the base mode and those who want to live in the 21st Century.

I, frankly, do not think we can offer any kind words for the Muslim world. Which is to say, not only are we the heirs to the hated colonialists but, even worse, we are infidel harbis, meaning that they understand us - whatever we might say to the contrary - to always be at war with Islam.

You will note that the dar al-harb, land of war, has its name because it is assumed to be at war with Islam. The Jihad is a necessity because we are at war with Islam and because the goal of the Jihad is to replace the land of war with the land of Islam (i.e. dar al-islam), with all non-Muslim agreeing to the dhimma agreement or being subject to the sword (or, where appropriate, slavery).

On the other hand, I agree that the Iraqi adventure has made it more difficult to deal with Iran. Our troops are tied up. On the other hand, I do not think that we really ever could have attacked Iran since it is a far more formidable country than Iraq.

I note the George Friedman view from his book America's Secret War. He claims that the goal of the Iraqi war was to place serious pressure on the Saudi Arabia and the other Muslim countries in the region to deal with the Jihadis. His view is that while, in large measure, the Saudis have done exactly that, Iraq was a trap for reasons that are all too familiar. At the same time, he also thinks that our presence places real pressure on Iran as well.


N. Friedman - 2/5/2005

Arnold,

I would invite you to read different voices when you speak about the Middle East. In fact, I think you have matters backwards. In the Middle East, the main issue is the hegemonic interests of the Muslim majority which demands to all other groups - in the many, many millions - either support the Muslims to such groups direct detriment or die. In particular, the groups which have hoped to escape the oppression of the Muslim majority, most particularly, the various Christian minorities, have paid dearly for their dream of freedom.

I have in mind the Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts of Egypt and the Christians of Sudan. All told, many millions of these people have been murdered in the name of Muslim hegemony, aka Jihad.

You might consider reading elegant writers such as Wallid Phares, Bat Ye'or and Serge Trifkovic, among others. The sad reality is that you are standing with those who seek to stiffle freedom in the name of religion based imperialist hegemony. Think about it.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/4/2005

Yes, truth is the first casualty of war. Iraq is about "democracy", but Haitians just has a genuinely democratic President kidnapped.

We do not have the Truth being spoken. It has not been spoken in America since, oh, probably 1846.

De Toqueville got it wrong. The tyranny of the Majority is not the real fear. Rather, the weakening of the Majority is the real problem. The Majority forgets what the Declaration of Independence really teaches, that democracy comes from below, not from above. We have it so good that we forget that the System is not self-correcting. I'd call it the feminization of the American male, but I do not want to offend women, who may be more "men" than men today.

Friends, I do not mean to be a conspiracy theorist, but why were BOTH candidates Skull and Bones members? Answer this question and I will respect your opinion.

NB


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/4/2005

I am a little unclear on the facts. Was not Iraq a democracy back in the Fifties and early Sixties, before the CIA promoted a Ba'athist coup? I may be confusing Iraq with Iran. However, I was under the impression that the Monarchy was overthrown; and then a democracy was established, if only for a few years.

I would respect the Neocons and Bush more if they actually declared a Holy War against terrorism in the name of Judaism, Christianity, and honest Islam, instead of Hellenistic "democracy". The "democracy" of modern America seems to function the way it did in Athens, some included and others "Diebolded" out. I would rather have an honest dictator than something that masquerades as "democracy" when it is not. Lincoln said something similar to that.

I would sign up for the Military tomorrow if there were a clear purpose to our actions beyond either corporate profit (Realists), vague democratic idealism (Leftist interventionists and Shachtmanites) or International Globalism (Kofi and Javier Solana). I would rather have something I can really believe in than to fight and die for an ephemeral value. I will fight for Right Religion, but not for the lack of real purpose that Bush and Co have given.

Democracy cannot really exist outside of Nations that share a certain heritage. Remember Viet Nam? Our old friend Jane Fonda shared one thing in common with MacNamara, a belief that democracy of some kind, capitalist in one case and socialist in the other, could be exported to a culture that did not have a Judeo-Christian basis. It did not work. I am not saying that it could not work, or that Buddhists are INCAPABLE of democracy. But, it did not work. Neither north nor south Viet Name ever became real democracies, in spite of the best hope of so many pluralist democrats and Marxists on both sides of the equation.

Democracy does not seem to work in Orthodox Russia, or in other non-Protestant Christian Nations. For genuine democracy to work, a system of Law similar to the Common Law of England and America must be in place. An independent Judiciary that respects Divine Law must be established. Secret Societies of the type that have dominated the American government, which function as the Serpent in the Eden of our democratic Republic, must be barred from government. A belief in G-d, transcending Majority Rule, must be in place, lest democracy evolve in to its own negation through an elective dictatorship. In short, it must be like the America that was.

The Iran of today is closer to the Puritan America that was than the modern America is. As it is, the Iranians have more of a democracy, even under the tyrannical Islamicists, than modern heathens and/or "Once Saved, Always Saved" Calvinists in America have. We are "Diebolded" out of an honest vote. Hence, we have no choice, while the Iranians have little choice. Who is really the sucker Nation?

Should the evil tyrants of Iran "free" us? Hardly. Instead, we should let Israel be Israel and take care of the problems over there, through bombing or whatever is necessary. Tell the Europeans and the Arabs to take a hike. To baldly paraphrase the Spice Gilrs; When you want to be our allies, you've got to be down with our friends.

NB


Arnold Shcherban - 2/4/2005

The millions perished in South-East Asia, Africa, Latin and Central America (if alive) as the direct or indirect consequences of the hegemonic "visions" of the US elite would fiercely disagree with you, Mr. Friedman, and their
remained alive decendants do disagree with you now.
Along with dozens of millions of Arabs, whose lifes are ruined by the repressive, anti-democratic regimes which would be swept away (and were), as soon as the great American "contribution" to the protection of their freedoms were lost (though, of course, there is no historical guarantee that they would be replaced with better ones, but that what democracy is all about: let
the national people decide what the best regime for them
on their own without US dictate, isn't it?).

What did this country do, or does now for example, to protect people from totalitarian, repressive regimes existed, or still existing in the world, except killing
masses of people, over direct invasions, or by proxy, through its political and economical allies - terrorist regimes?
What is that enormous positive contribution that this country made in Vietnam, or Cambodia, or Korea, or Laos,
or Nicaragua, or San-Salvador, or Angola, or South Africa,
or Indonesia, and so on and so forth that would "far outweigh" the amount of destruction and loss of human lifes those nations experienced directly from the hands
of the Americans, or from the hands of their own elites
allied with, sponsored and supported by the American governments?
Don't you tell me that the other large countries did
the same (and more) terrible things, since I've never
argued versus the latter resume. The only major thing
I was consistently did stand up against is the dogmatic and anti-humanistic double standards stubbornly applied to the analysis of the US policies by the mainstream American pundits.


N. Friedman - 2/4/2005

Adam,

I think I said that I thought Iraq is a mistake. I reiterate my view that it is a mistake. I think we should have allied with local players such as Maronites and the Israelis to force the wedge we both seek.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/4/2005

1) “However, one tendency I have noticed is that many groups tend to declare to be facts matters that, in reality, are opinions regarding a collection of data points”

That is exactly what my criticism of Bush is, declaring something to be “fact” when it is only one possible interpretation of the data. Such as the “fact” of Iraq’s WMD, among others.

2) “As all of us know, to take the noted example, there were multiple data points where Saddam's regime and terrorism closely intersected. Which, to note, is not to suggest that such connection was such that it justified an invasion but instead to note that the popularly held fact is, in reality, an opinion which has a political agenda behind it.”

I would definitely agree with that.

3) “Which is to say, I am not all that sanguine on what constitutes a "fact" when one is speaking for or against Mr. Bush.”

I would agree with that as well. Perhaps I should rephrase my criticism of Bush to read that he presents facts where there are none, rather than he is not presenting the “right” facts.

4) “My view is that you cannot fight a religious movement by targetting its believers. They, in my view, are immune from reason and there are too many of them to defeat. Instead, you must create a civil war of sorts among the believers (no reference to Naipaul's title intended). The way to do that is, unfortunately, by force - which is what the President has done -.”

I would agree with the strategy suggested above, just not the tactics. There is evidence to indicate that the administration wanted to wage war on Iraq prior to 9/11 and for reasons only indirectly related to fighting Islamic fundamentalism (it should be noted that while Iraq should have been held accountable for aiding in anti-Israel terrorist organizations, it was not a religiously fundamentalist regime and did so for pragmatic reasons of building its image in the Arab world as their leader).

I agree that force must be used to drive a wedge between moderate Muslims and Jihadists. The only problem is that the conflict in Iraq has only intensified anti-American feelings in many nations and prompted many Muslims to be sympathetic to bin Laden where they could otherwise have been allies in the war on terror. This is to say nothing of the fact that the conflict has severely retarded our ability to address genuine threats to our national security, such as the one posed by Iran. An America fresh from the world-supported conflict and rebuilding in Afghanistan and a leader in an international coalition against terrorism would be in a far stronger position than the pariah-like status that is rightly or wrongly attributed to us in much of the Islamic, and NON-Islamic world.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7460-2005Jan13.html
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6577524/
http://www.amconmag.com/2004_10_25/feature.html
http://www.amconmag.com/2004_08_30/article.html

So again, we see eye to eye in how to destabilize the terrorist network and take the conflict to their own shores and schools and fight it there. Where I part ways with this administration is its belief that Iraq was the right place to proceed. Separate from whether or not he exaggerated the intelligence (which we disagree on), I believe that the plan was completely counter-productive to our goals.

As I have said before, I sincerely hope that history proves my concerns as unjustified.

"The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different- and perhaps barren- outcome."
-- George H.W. Bush, one of the great foreign policy presidents of our time, defending his position NOT to invade Iraq in 1991.


N. Friedman - 2/4/2005

Adam,

You write: "I think that one of the reasons I tend to avoid giving the President the benefit of the doubt on this issue is that his “facts” have been so misrepresented or exaggerated on so many other issues (I would recommend the nonpartisan www.factcheck.org for a more comprehensive list). Of course, this should be unrelated to the Iraqi case, as each situation should be judged on the bases of its own merits. Nevertheless, since we are discussing intent in this debate, I think bringing up unrelated issues that reflect the administrations credibility with the truth is relevant."

Again, I am not an apologist for Mr. Bush. However, one tendency I have noticed is that many groups tend to declare to be facts matters that, in reality, are opinions regarding a collection of data points - as in the widely held "fact" that there was no connection between the terrorists, the spread of terrorism and Saddam's Iraq -. As all of us know, to take the noted example, there were multiple data points where Saddam's regime and terrorism closely intersected. Which, to note, is not to suggest that such connection was such that it justified an invasion but instead to note that the popularly held fact is, in reality, an opinion which has a political agenda behind it.

The actual connection, if there was a significant one with, for example, al Qa'eda (and, this is not to mention the well established connections with al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and, correct me if I am mistaken, Hamas - a part of the Brotherhood and, hence, no doubt connected with the Jihadi movement although not necessarily bin Laden's specific group) will be one for historians to determine looking back after the immediate significance of the politics of the "facts" has faded. Which is to say, I am not all that sanguine on what constitutes a "fact" when one is speaking for or against Mr. Bush.

You write: "Also relevant is the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was made at a time when we could have been directing our attention on more pressing concerns, such as the reconstruction of Afghanistan, North Korea (which, had it been addressed at the time, could possibly have been dealt with in a way that would have far easier than it will now be), the emerging threat of Iran, the terrorist support of Syria, and the continuing struggle to institute some global guidelines on the arrest and financial crippling of terrorist organizations, to name a few. I do not subscribe to the position that Iraq must, or even should, have preceded those other threats."

"Under those circumstances, the precise nature of the threat Iraq posed and the urgency of action was vital to the argument for war. After all, Bush could not just say that Iraq was a danger that needed to be addressed (of this, there was little disagreement), he had to prove that it was the MOST dangerous and needed to be addressed immediately, and of course it was related to the war on terror in a very direct sense through bin Laden and AQ."

Your point is well taken. However, I note the following:

Islamism is not an organization but a movement - a very terrible, frightening movement - and has alway been primarily a movement. The question becomes how to respond. Your approach suggests that we can go where the Islamists behave like terrorists with a reasonable chance of success.

My view is that you cannot fight a religious movement by targetting its believers. They, in my view, are immune from reason and there are too many of them to defeat. Instead, you must create a civil war of sorts among the believers (no reference to Naipaul's title intended). The way to do that is, unfortunately, by force - which is what the President has done -.

In Iraq, force has brought the different and contradictory forces in that society to the forefront and has, with the election in Iraq last week, exposed the lie that Islamism and Ba'athism are the only models with any resonance to people living in the Muslim world. Over time - probably in quite a long time -, what the President has done will pay off. My problem with choosing Iraq is that Iraq is too difficult of a place to make a stand of the type the President made because the country, as everyone now clearly understands, is really three countries in one.


"Wouldn’t it be nice if presidents still recorded their WH conversations for history’s sake like Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon? Even without them, I suspect that like many historical events, the full truth of Bush’s decision-making process will one day be known, one way or another. Perhaps we will still be here on HNN for one of us to concede defeat to the other ; )"

We can hope!!!


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/4/2005

Mr. Friedman,
I think that one of the reasons I tend to avoid giving the President the benefit of the doubt on this issue is that his “facts” have been so misrepresented or exaggerated on so many other issues (I would recommend the nonpartisan www.factcheck.org for a more comprehensive list). Of course, this should be unrelated to the Iraqi case, as each situation should be judged on the bases of its own merits. Nevertheless, since we are discussing intent in this debate, I think bringing up unrelated issues that reflect the administrations credibility with the truth is relevant.

Also relevant is the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was made at a time when we could have been directing our attention on more pressing concerns, such as the reconstruction of Afghanistan, North Korea (which, had it been addressed at the time, could possibly have been dealt with in a way that would have far easier than it will now be), the emerging threat of Iran, the terrorist support of Syria, and the continuing struggle to institute some global guidelines on the arrest and financial crippling of terrorist organizations, to name a few. I do not subscribe to the position that Iraq must, or even should, have preceded those other threats.

Under those circumstances, the precise nature of the threat Iraq posed and the urgency of action was vital to the argument for war. After all, Bush could not just say that Iraq was a danger that needed to be addressed (of this, there was little disagreement), he had to prove that it was the MOST dangerous and needed to be addressed immediately, and of course it was related to the war on terror in a very direct sense through bin Laden and AQ.

Certainly, your arguments are sound and I freely admit that I could be 100% wrong about the situation. Certainly, Clinton’s statements are a compelling point of evidence for the contention that the evidence was relatively conclusive. Whether or not he chose not to take action because he knew he would not get any Republican support because of the impeachment; he was simply not a risk-taking president and feared it would go badly; or he privately knew that Iraq was not really as great a threat as he told people (think: Cuba) is certainly open to question.

I have always believed that Bush THOUGHT he did the right thing going into Iraq, even while I maintain that he was not forthright to the American people in order to convince them of the same. Obviously, even though polls show Americans to recognize this war as a mistake, the election shows that a majority do not hold Bush liable for it (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14266-2004Dec20.html).

Wouldn’t it be nice if presidents still recorded their WH conversations for history’s sake like Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon? Even without them, I suspect that like many historical events, the full truth of Bush’s decision-making process will one day be known, one way or another. Perhaps we will still be here on HNN for one of us to concede defeat to the other ; )


N. Friedman - 2/4/2005

Adam,

As always, you have presented a very, very good argument. I still disagree.

I think the President needed to view that evidence based on the fact that the spy agencies and State Department, etc., had, more or less, entirely misunderstood that region's ambitions. Working without a compass that was reliable, I think that the administration was accordingly reasonable - albeit they erred - to take the worst case scenario on the information available. I further think, given the mistakes made before that time about the ambitions of the Muslim Arab region, was more or less his moral obligation as President. I also think that such is central to understanding what occurred.

I think your approach fails to recognize just how heavily the noted presumption had to, after the prior errors, have weighed on any decision maker who takes his or her job seriously. Which is to say, I think that more is involved than a mere objective re-examination of evidence - as 20/20 hindsight provides to all of us -.

Further, one of my points in quoting President Clinton at length is that he - and he had also seen the intelligence as it had not much changed from his time in office - not only agreed with Bush but evidently with the conclusions reached by Bush.


Gary Barnett - 2/4/2005

The one aspect about the war I hear very little about in the mainstream media and citizenry in the U.S. is: Did the ends justify the means? Was the death of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis? Is the policy kill them so we can save them, because it is worth it? Worth it to whom?
The Shiite clerics may not extoll democracy, but they know US imperialism when they see it. So do ordinary Iraqis. Sure there have been individual selfless acts by GIs and others to save innocent people and maybe a few strategic decisions as well (political and or humanitarian). However, no body counts, stifled media, humiliation, destruction of property and lives have made clear that the lives of Iraqis are not worth much despite "precision bombing" and all the rhetoric from officials and the media. The U.S. did not invade Iraq just to set Iraqis free and bring democracy...that is clear. So called "national interest" was the reason and that means a U.S. friendly government and U.S. bases. The White House will try its best to influence any elected Iraqi government and "get their man" in. That's not just "good diplomacy and foreign policy" its disengenuous, not to mention anti-democratic. Do we really thing the best interests of Iraqis will be served by U.S. interests?


Jonathan Pine - 2/4/2005

I believe the United States met its GOALS for the unpopular Vietnam war. America was worried about the domino effect, about the "contaminating" effect of communism upon the whole region in South East Asia. When it became evident that it was not they pulled out. So in a way Vietnam was a "success." (except for the Vietnamese whose country was destroyed and the U.S. soldiers who never made it back). Because it’s poor in natural resources and lost its strategic position Vietnam didn’t have much to offer a country like America. We had military bases in Japan to keep a presence in the region. There was no reason to stay in Vietnam.

Iraq on the other hand is strategically placed for geopolitical leverage and happens to have a lot of oil (although that isn’t necessarily the reason America seems to be digging for the long term but it sure means something). I go back and forth on how I feel about the elections. The US presence there has created a space for the Iraqis to begin to have a choice about who they want to govern them. It’s possibly sending a message to the Ayatollahs that their "Islamic Democracy" is false which may someday have an effect on how the Iranians perceive how they are going to be governed.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/4/2005

Mr. Friedman,
1) “The issue of why or why not to attack Iraq was well aired - at least by people who read the papers.”

I could not agree more. I consider most of the news coverage before and after the conflict to be extremely informative. However, most people do not get their news from reading papers, most get their news from local or national television news shows. When I look back at the administrations statements before the war, their use of exaggeration was clear. The intelligence indicated many possibilities for what Iraq was doing, and the administration presented a worse case scenario as established fact.

We are simply going to have to disagree about how much WMD played into the argument. I consider it to be the crucial argument the administration repeatedly cited as reason for invasion, while you seem to believe that it was only secondary, with the broader aim of spreading democracy the primary selling point.

2) “One further point. The propriety, at least of what Tony Blair's government said, found its way before judges. In both cases, the government of Britain - which employed the same sort of salemanship as Bush's administation - was shown not to have lied or even really exagerated.”

This is certainly true, but that has not silenced former administration officials who say that the threat was indeed exaggerated (to use a highly less provocative word than “lied”). Frankly, the court may say what it likes about Blair, since I am far less familiar with specific policy statements. However, for Bush, when I look over his pre-war comments and assertions, it is difficult for me to accept the fact that what he was saying accurately described the intelligence that he had, since shortly after the war, information came out suggesting that the intelligence was not nearly so certain as Bush was, and that intelligence on links to AQ, and the threat Iraq posed was, in fact, quite unsubstantiated.

http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/09/18/sprj.irq.blix.bush/
http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/news/2003/intell-030617-voa01.htm
http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/justify/2004/0128liesiraqwar.htm

3) “Now, my view of the history is that people - including, I think, perhaps even you - are reading back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Which is to say, WMD's were not found hence, the government intentionally misused the evidence.”

I do not agree with your logic, as it assumes that I would be saying this regardless of what the administration claimed before the war. In other words, you are suggesting that I am calling Bush a liar simply because he turned out to be wrong. I do not believe that this is what I am doing, although certainly anyone is free to disagree.

It is true, I now have the added hindsight of knowing that the Bush statements were false, but had this invasion not occurred, it is unlikely that any of this would have been made public so of course, this argument can only be made in hindsight since even up until recently, many conservatives still argue that everything the administration says Iraq had, it did have and we just have not found them yet.

The reality is that many of the pre-war claims made by this administration were not only wrong in hindsight, they were “exaggerated” based on the avalibale data at the time. If Kay was right and the entire world was wrong about Iraq before the war, and everyone agreed with what the administration was saying, then Bush cannot be accused of wrongdoing. However, since this was not in fact the case, I cannot accept that those statements which are directly contradicted by the available facts, are somehow legitimate simply because Bush may have genuinely believed them.

I do not believe that the administration should be given such wide latitude with the facts when war is at stake. The facts as I see them remain the following:
- The Bush administration made numerous claims about Iraq before the war that have turned out not to be true
- At the time of such statements, information their dubious reliability were known and available

If only the first of the above were true, we would not be having this discussion.
http://www.clw.org/16distortions.html
http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_922.shtml


N. Friedman - 2/4/2005

Arnold,

I guess, then, that we disagree. In any event, I think the US's contribution far outweighs its "hegemonic" side so that such can be, more or less, forgiven.


Robert F. Koehler - 2/4/2005

You have made a massive error in judging me as partisan. I had long renounced both political parties. For a while I was an independent and gave that up for extreme non-partisan issue-advocacy. I have come to see the futility even in that field and am today virtually a-political. I have got some 25 years of party political activism at the local and state level and came to the conclusion that the only good people in politics either get out of it, or get co-opted by it. Since the early 70's when I became active I have seen the quality in rank & file party membership degrade substantially over the years, regardless of the party. I have observed party organizations & structures increasingly become more autocratic and the party membership reduced to nothing more than money farmers for the candidates anointed by party bosses & hacks. There is no greater joke in the world than becoming a delegate in a party when nominations & elections of candidates are now the preserve of open primaries that are the case in 47 states. All delegates are required to do is approve the party favorites who are decided long before the primary process begins, and if they don't do as their told I have seen party rules invoked that stripped delegates of their votes. You want to associate, play or trust that racket that's your business.

There is no question that power plays a role in media manipulation and used to push political agenda's, misinformation and propaganda. But its also a fact that the media is a business and if one did their homework can find every analysis, perspective, opinion or view in the book. Its a lie to say that any group, party or cause has a monopoly over the media, whether that was the anti-war movement of yesterday or demos & repubs today. Especially today with the widespread use of electronic media anything and everything can be known within minutes. There is no lack of varied information today but a massive suffusion of it.

Democracy? What is democracy? Do you know what the difference is between a republic and a democracy? Do you know the specific conditions under which democracy can only exist within a republic? Do you know the specific conditions when democracy is throttled and exterminated within a republic? Do you believe America today, at this precise moment, is a democracy?

George Bush can no more bring democracy, human rights or freedom, as you think you know it, to Iraq or anywhere else in the world. That never was the goal no matter how many speeches he gives and the propaganda the party apparatus churns out. Had George stopped after Afghanistan and not invaded Iraq you and I wouldn't be having this conversation because we would all be praising George. But the agenda was Iraq all along and when he played that card he overshoot his hand, mishandled the mission and is now being attended to by far better men and women than George who know what their doing. If there is any success in Iraq, which is an iffy 50/50 proposition at this time, it will only be due to those George rejected, banished and refused to listen to in the first place.

Africa ain't the half of it that this country is going to have to deal with if we are going to survive in the 21st century. The war, which you supported, is but only in its beginning phases and skirmishes. Enjoy life to your fullest power as much and as long as you can.


Arnold Shcherban - 2/4/2005

Now, Mr. Friedman: every large country "contributes" quite a bit, and let me be even more "outrageous" - in positive sense, too ... along the MAIN way.
There is the ROAD and there are paths.
I was talking about the ROAD.
Believe me, when I started on these boards, I didn't expect to find so many validations of seemed paradoxical
statement of Cermelo: "one can never overestimate the ignorance of his audience".


Robert F. Koehler - 2/3/2005

Vietnam was a stupid war, started by stupid politicians who were too stupid to learn anything from it. And when bad went to worse they were the first to cut, run and bail and made scapegoats out of the defense establishment & soldiers who merely bucked up, obeyed orders and did their duty. And many of them wound up falling on their swords, ruining their careers and sacrificing their honor for the vermin and filth they obeyed. It wasn't the media, or the anti-war movement, or the people, or dope heads. That was all the inevitable result of supreme stupidity in the first place.

Generals, diplomats and intelligence types of 40 years ago initially warned those jackass's just like today's current types who warned a similar strain of vermin in power. But a lot of those types were around 40 years ago as junior officers, agents and civil servants who vividly remembered what went down. Unlike their counterparts a lot of them have spoken up, while others opposed this administration by various means that upset today's stupid politicians & their lackeys in charge. Just like then, when the s**t started to fly this administration tried sending the swords down too, but they all got bucked up with messages chiseled & emblazoned unto the blades: "Fall on them yourselves." The only one George could get was his own CIA director, who in the prospect of falling somehow managed to miss the tip of the blade. And the ones he tried to pin it on by firing and smearing have all been exonerated either by the courts or events.

When General Abizaid took over CENTCOM he stood tall and told the American people we are fighting a guerrilla war. The administration blew a gasket because they were playing the same low ball, deceitful, sub-human game of their predecessors by calling the resistance nothing more than "dead enders" who were causing all the trouble. But the General stood his ground and declared: "I won't be the fall guy." I stood up and saluted.

We made a ton of mistakes in Iraq. But unlike then there are a lot of people who intially got slapped out of the way because George didn't like the advise, who have recently returned and bi**ch-dog slapped the stupid people out of the way. Behind the scenes they are now in charge, command & control and whatever positive developments that appear to be occurring, or any future success in Iraq will be exclusively due to them. If George knows what's good for him he will do as he is told and stay out of the way of those who know what their doing.


N. Friedman - 2/3/2005

Adam,

One further point. The propriety, at least of what Tony Blair's government said, found its way before judges. In both cases, the government of Britain - which employed the same sort of salemanship as Bush's administation - was shown not to have lied or even really exagerated.

Now, my view of the history is that people - including, I think, perhaps even you - are reading back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Which is to say, WMD's were not found hence, the government intentionally misused the evidence.

Much more likely, I think, is that the government, having seen a massive intelligence failure, adopted - and probably thought reasonable - a worst case scenario of any data regarding the Arab world. I note that such point is argued, rather convincingly, in George Friedman's book America's Secret War. In fact, he notes that in the period into at least part, if not all, of 2002 and perhaps beyond (and I read the book awhile ago so I am not sure when things resorted to normal), the government expected an imminent - in fact, was convinced that there would be a - nuclear attack from al Qa'eda. Such, evidently, was based on their worst case scenario reading of all evidence post 9/11. And such approach was evidently the direct result of an executive order (or something of the sort) issued immediately after 9/11 to re-read all data on the terror groups and others and to assume, going forward, the worst case.


N. Friedman - 2/3/2005

Adam,

I do not plan to spend time upholding Mr. Bush's honor. However, I stand by my point.

The issue of why or why not to attack Iraq was well aired - at least by people who read the papers -.

Consider Thomas Friedman's article of September 18, 2002 in which he argues that the average American does not believe that Iraq is a threat but that the war is necessary anyway. "That's where I think most Americans are at. Deep down they believe that Saddam is "deterrable." That is, he does not threaten the U.S. and he never has, because he has been deterred the way Russia, China and North Korea have been. He knows that if he even hints at threatening us, we will destroy him. Saddam has always been homicidal, not suicidal. Indeed, he has spent a lifetime perfecting the art of survival — because he loves life more than he hates us."

Then Friedman says: "I think the chances of Saddam being willing, or able, to use a weapon of mass destruction against us are being exaggerated. What terrifies me is the prospect of another 9/11 — in my mall, in my airport or in my downtown — triggered by angry young Muslims, motivated by some pseudo-religious radicalism cooked up in a mosque in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan. And I believe that the only way to begin defusing that threat is by changing the context in which these young men grow up — namely all the Arab-Muslim states that are failing at modernity and have become an engine for producing undeterrables.

"So I am for invading Iraq only if we think that doing so can bring about regime change and democratization. Because what the Arab world desperately needs is a model that works — a progressive Arab regime that by its sheer existence would create pressure and inspiration for gradual democratization and modernization around the region."

You will note that Friedman was not a loner on the point. Which is to say, I think he is basically right that no one in his or her right mind really believed that Sadam would directly attack the US.

So also suggested Columnist Richard Cohen in the Washington Post on October 10, 2002. He wrote:

"I, for one, recoil from some of Bush's exaggerations. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, Iraq poses no threat to the United States itself. Furthermore, Hussein is not likely to align himself with Muslim fundamentalists, because he is a secular fellow by nature. He knows he has as much to fear from religious fanatics in his region as he does from conservative Republicans in Washington.

"Finally, the term "weapons of mass destruction," while frightening, is an obfuscation. Chemical weapons are weapons of limited destruction -- horrible but restricted in practicality. Biological weapons are scary beyond imagination, but much more potent in the movies than in real life. They are difficult to deliver -- the explosion immolates the germs -- and not all that effective.

"Nuclear weapons are a different matter. They truly are weapons of mass destruction -- certainly weapons of mass intimidation. Iraq is probably five years or so away from developing an atomic weapon, but why wait for that to happen? Recent history tells us that when this crisis passes, the world will lose its interest and Hussein's weaponeers will return to the labs. Sooner or later, this vampire is going to rise out of his coffin."

In short, anyone who followed the news knew that the WMD talk was not all on point but was instead a mixture of truth and salemanship. My ultimate point that what occurred was not all Bush's doing comes from President Clinton, who wrote on March 18, 2003 (in the London Guardian):

"On the other side, France, Germany and Russia are adamantly opposed to the use of force or imposing any ultimatum on Saddam as long as the inspectors are working. They believe that, at least as long as the inspectors are there, Iraq will not use or give away its chemical and biological stocks, and therefore, no matter how unhelpful Saddam is, he does not pose a threat sufficient to justify invasion. After 150,000 US forces were deployed to the Gulf, they concluded the US was not willing to give inspections a chance anyway. The problem with their position is that only the threat of force from the US and the UK got inspectors back into Iraq in the first place. Without a credible threat of force, Saddam will not disarm.

"Once again, Blair stepped into the breach, with a last-ditch proposal to restore unity to the UN and disarm Saddam without military action. He secured US support for a new UN resolution that would require Saddam to meet dead lines, within a reasonable time, in four important areas, including accounting for his biological and chemical weapons and allowing Iraqi scientists to leave the country for interviews. Under the proposed resolution, failure to comply with this deadline would justify the use of force to depose Saddam.

"Russia and France opposed this resolution and said they would veto it, because inspections are proceeding, weapons are being destroyed and there is therefore no need for a force ultimatum. Essentially they have decided Iraq presents no threat even if it never disarms, at least as long as inspectors are there.

The veto threat did not help the diplomacy. It's too bad, because if a majority of the security council had adopted the Blair approach, Saddam would have had no room for further evasion and he still might have disarmed without invasion and bloodshed. Now, it appears that force will be used to disarm and depose him.

"As Blair has said, in war there will be civilian was well as military casualties. There is, too, as both Britain and America agree, some risk of Saddam using or transferring his weapons to terrorists. There is as well the possibility that more angry young Muslims can be recruited to terrorism. But if we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam.

"I wish that Russia and France had supported Blair's resolution. Then, Hans Blix and his inspectors would have been given more time and supprt for their work. But that's not where we are. Blair is in a position not of his own making, because Iraq and other nations were unwilling to follow the logic of 1441.

"In the post-cold war world, America and Britain have been in tough positions before: in 1998, when others wanted to lift sanctions on Iraq and we said no; in 1999 when we went into Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing. In each case, there were voices of dissent. But the British-American partnership and the progress of the world were preserved. Now in another difficult spot, Blair will have to do what he believes to be right. I trust him to do that and hope the British people will too. "


William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 2/3/2005

"United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of the turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam."

--New York Times, September 4, 1967


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/2/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Certainly, nothing wrong with an honest disagreement among friends.

1) “First, concentrating on the perceptions or misperceptions that the public acquires… That tells me about the press, not about the administration.”

A fair analysis.

2) “Second, Americans, I think, supported the war because they viewed it as important to the war against terrorism. If the President had said, let's invade Cuba to get some Jihadis, the public would have followed.”

I suppose this is a matter we can never really know with certainty. I agree that Americans believed that Iraq was important to the war on terror, but I believe they thought this because of misperceptions (such as an Iraq-9/11 tie). These misperceptions do say an awful lot about the media but they also say a lot about an administration that fostered these misperceptions, encouraged them, and at the very least, failed to correct them. Whether or not the people were guided more by ignorance than by the presidents statements is impossible to tell but I maintain that the administration lied about the rationale for the war in order to get support and that those lied ultimately paid off.

3) “At the time the WMD debate began, the press reported meticulously that such was merely for consumption in the UN and in Europe. Recall what was said about going to the UN. Which is to say, I believe that those who claim the adminstration focused solely on WMD as their public justification mis-read the record and misread how the debate was portrayed to the public.”

I must disagree. As the President’s statement I provided indicated, the physical threat Iraq posed through WMD was, in my opinion, based on the combined statements of the administration, THE determining factor for going to war. Did the administration focus on WMD “solely”? Certainly not. Iraq was to be a domino that would spread peace and freedom through the region, it was being punished for violating UN resolutions, it would send a message to other regimes, it was delayed retaliation for genocide, punishment for trying to kill the former president Bush, and many other reasons mentioned. However, I believe that an analysis of the administrations pre-war speeches and statements on why we should invade would reveal a clear consistency with which they mention WMD as the primary and principle cause.

4) “… if Iraq actually had a program, it would readily have escaped the inspectors. Such, you will note, was the case with Libya about which only the revelations regarding AQ Khan revealed information. I thus take the inspection issue as irrelevant.”

I am not an expert on this subject, but I was of the understanding that Libya was not subject to inspections prior to 2003, when they allowed the UN to confirm that they were starting to abide by their treaty obligations?
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-12/29/content_294140.htm

I also find little comfort in the fact that Iraq may have been able to evade the inspections. New information seems to suggest that this was not the case and the inspections were largely successful in preventing Iraq from rearming after the first Gulf War. In any event, the new inspections that Bush pushed through the UN (to his tremendous credit) were tougher and stronger than the old inspections process, and one that I believe should have been experimented with at least.

Of course, all of this remains the discussion for historians. Politically, the public re-elected Bush, knowing everything we know now and I respect their decision.

History tends to reward winners with legitimacy, gamblers whose risk paid off. If Iraq descends deeper into chaos and stability remains tenuous, the conflict will be seen as a failure and people will look back and blame the administration for its lies, and people will remember how they opposed the conflict from the start (similar to how people pretend to have opposed Vietnam despite large majority support for much of the 1960’s).

If however, Iraq becomes a success, people will look back at Bush’s pre-war statements as merely being years ahead of his time, looking forward to Iraq prior to 9/11 just as Roosevelt had wanted to enter WWII prior to Pearl Harbor.

Those are my humble opinion, for what they are worth.


Lawrence Jones - 2/2/2005

Dear Mr. Friedman:

I find it interesting that your figure of speech references "Rome," as it certainly raises the question of what we are building here.

To Mr. Slaten:

I am in awe of your brilliant response, but I think you want 'Too bad the leftists...' not " To bad the leftists...".


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

Another Bush hater aren't you?


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

You and your disgusting leftist friends are making me almost throw up. You use the term neocon constantly. You have no proof that they are conservative but you and your fellow trravelers prove every day and almost hourly that you are leftists.

Your every criticism of Buch gives aid and comfort to the terrorists and make yourselves traitors by doing so.

You need to run to one of the America hating counties to live.

Have a safe trip. Maybe the terrorists will not kill you on the way.


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

You and your disgusting leftist friends are making me almost throw up. You use the term neocon constantly. You have no proof that they are conservative but you and your fellow trravelers prove every day and almost hourly that you are leftists.

Your every criticism of Buch gives aid and comfort to the terrorists and make yourselves traitors by doing so.

You need to run to one of the America hating counties to live.

Have a safe trip. Maybe the terrorists will not kill you on the way.


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

You are right on neighbor. To bad the leftists who give aid and comfort to our enemies aren't as smart as they think they are.


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

You are right on neighbor. To bad the leftists who give aid and comfort to our enemies aren't as smart as they think they are.


Edwin J. Slaten - 2/2/2005

Yours is the only sensable post on this page.


Robert F. Koehler - 2/2/2005

Dr. Cole is but merely categorizing facts as they transpired and rightly warning Americans not to be overly ebullient simply because these elections have taken place. The danger is for American's to read more into what has taken place than what actually happened in Iraq on 31 January. An important event to be sure, but all the same, not to take as seriously as anything this administration or its supporters have to say about it, since its all colored with the need to justify their policies no matter how inept and wrong events have proven them to be.

The turning point for Bush and fellow allies came with Ali Sistani's overt confrontations and triumph over this administrations policies in Iraq. Bush wound up doing far more than caving, he repeatedly found himself acquiescing and surrendering to the cleric's demands from January on till the summer of 2004. This resulted in an internal rebellion throughout the foreign policy and defense establishments that warned him of these possibilities and the limitations of American power, which he choose to ignore and banish from his narrow circle of advice & counsel.

I don't believe George, neocon's and other fellow allies are in command of what is happening in Iraq, or anywhere else on other foreign policy issues & fronts. The people he had originally discarded and insulted have flooded back into this administration and most likely are the real authors of what is transpiring today in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. I believe George's new reality is to but merely sing a tune that plays well in Peoria and heartland America, but to leave the real business of foreign policy and the stabilization & reconstruction of Iraq in the hands of those who know what they are doing. As that stands, he still needs correction as his father had done shortly after Jr's inaugural speech.

If George winds up getting credit for a successful Iraqi outcome it won't be to his doing. Nor will democracy, whatever that ambiguous, peculiar and very weird term means, be an outcome in Iraq or anywhere else in the world despite the tenor of his high rhetoric and noble sounding dreams. Iraqi governance will form out of the hard facts on the ground and the understandings that Iraqi's will come to among themselves. The US will be principally outside this process, though offering military assistance & material, advice and influencing it as much as we can. But what will ultimately emerge will be a sovereign and distinctly Iraqi government that experts in the foreign policy establishment hope will work with the US instead of tossing us out of the country.

2005 will be an even more extraordinary and interesting year than the previous 3 that have followed it, not only for Iraq but also for the developing story and conflicts I see going on internally in the US government. George Bush started something all right, but its outcomes will probably bear no resemblance to his intentions.


Robert F. Koehler - 2/2/2005

When Jefferson used the word democracy he was referencing a system of governance virtually alien and 180 degrees in the opposite direction to what exists in America today. Over 200 years ago all governance, politics and all power was virtually local and concentrated at the village, township or small town level. State capitols exerted hardly any control over local communities. The federal government was a non-entity that was invisible to most citizens because it rigidly confined itself exclusively to the enumerated powers clause. If it hadn't, or even hinted at exercising the kind of powers the federal authority exercises today it would have meant war.

All social, cultural & economic interactions made the country into a vast kaleidoscope of unique & independent communities due to extreme localism, which makes what is today called multi-culturalism an extraordinarily weak sister. Regardless of social distinction or measures of wealth, all strata's of early republican society were compelled to co-operate & work together for the betterment of their communities and each other. In those days there were no national elite in government, high-society, or concentrations of ostentatious wealth due to private advantage or public corporatism. That was all in the future. In the early years it was often difficult to find citizens to run for federal office because the name of the game was either on the town council, a seat at the township or county hall and than maybe off to the state capitol for the truly civic and public spirited.

People will of course protest about slavery, or the Indians and the disenfranchisement of women. But such complaints are nothing less than anachronisms by moderns who impose their values & world-views unjustly upon past societies and peoples. Americans today have more than their share of failures & hypocrisies than to cast aspersions or judgment on other times, especially when other times are merely the products of the hard facts of everyday life within the unique contexts & environments of those times. Democracy, if it is to have any effect, meaning or useful purpose at all in a republic can only flourish when all politics, and most especially all power are local in nature. Where interaction is between neighbors within a community and all are known to all. Where all citizens who exercise the franchise have a real opportunity to be heard and compete for office, which was far more widely enjoyed & exercised than is recognized in some ideological quarters.

Unfortunately, that world hardly outlived the generation that founded and lived it. And its demise, ironically enough, can be dated on 4 July 1826 when the two poles of republican liberty, governance & the principles that guided it passed away. Jefferson and Adams. There was a temporary resurgence of neo-egalitarianism under Andrew Jackson, but was ultimately overwhelmed and subsumed by two emergent forms of corrupted republican governance in the North and South. Both wound up slaughtering each other and in the process murdering the founding principles of the early republic. An age in its death throes came to an end and from its ashes another rose.

Aside from a skeletal framework there is not one facet of our age that can be considered comparable to the founding era. Extreme centralization of all politics, power, culture, economy & education have evolved through our age to become the high ideals of our time. The extreme local has been reduced to nothing more than tax generating engines and transformed into directorate-corporations, which are ruled by executive committees. A national leviathan rides over all through vast federal & state bureaucracies and has crafted the welfare/warfare state. State corporatism, a tenet of fascism, is the economic engine of the nation in place of truly free markets and unencumbered enterprise.

And though much bile and angst has been shed over what came to be called Manifest Destiny, it was essentially nothing more than a great movement of peoples westward seeking a new life in a new world, first from the old and than across a vast continental wilderness. And like all epics of such scale triumph and tragedy are its handmaidens. But the story of our age is that of a nascent regional hegemon who first flexed its muscles over its southern neighbors and a few small islands in the Pacific. Sated with its first taste it went for bigger game against Spain and strode itself upon the stage of the world as an aspiring power. After two world wars it became a world hegemon and now is poised at another crossroads in its destiny. World Imperium. The last hundred & forty years have come to this.

Whether America seizes it or not is immaterial to the current age. Ours is a late time, filled up with late men & women who agonize over internal contradictions as great as those that tore apart the previous age it arose from like a Phoenix. Upon our ashes either a new American age will be born, or the American story will end with us.


N. Friedman - 2/2/2005

Adam,

As always, I respect your view. I also respectfully disagree.

First, concentrating on the perceptions or misperceptions that the public acquires - assuming they tell the truth to pollsters - does not tell me that the administration lied. In fact, the very point shown by http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/Media_10_02_03_Press.pdf is that people who watched one network were more confused than people who watched other networks. That tells me about the press, not about the administration.

Second, Americans, I think, supported the war because they viewed it as important to the war against terrorism. If the President had said, let's invade Cuba to get some Jihadis, the public would have followed. In any event, whether the public drew more direct connections between Jihadis and Saddam than the adminstration communicated or then the scholars who view Iraq as being central to the war against the Jihadis do is, to me, an aside. Which is to say, the basic notion that Iraq was directly connected to the Jihadi movement is very well founded - not because Saddam was necessarily involved (although he clearly had a direct connection to Jihadis in Israel) but because solving the problem, in the eyes of the neocons as well as a number of Middle Eastern specialists (e.g. Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes), required dealing with Iraq.

The administration made no secret of any of the above.

At the time the WMD debate began, the press reported meticulously that such was merely for consumption in the UN and in Europe. Recall what was said about going to the UN. Which is to say, I believe that those who claim the adminstration focused solely on WMD as their public justification mis-read the record and misread how the debate was portrayed to the public.

Your point regarding the views of foreign countries is well taken. On the other hand, regarding inspections, my view is that they are an irrelevancy. Which is to say, if Iraq actually had a program, it would readily have escaped the inspectors. Such, you will note, was the case with Libya about which only the revelations regarding AQ Khan revealed information. I thus take the inspection issue as irrelevant.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/2/2005

Chris,
As has been common in your posts, you have taken to immature name-calling and accusations of “blind ideological support” as a substitute for actual debate.

Ken,
1) “The plain fact is that Bush does [not] trust the people with making the right decisions, i.e., he does not believe in democracy.”

I suppose this depends on how one defines democracy. I tend to believe that so long as the people have regular elections and the opportunities to depose a leader through peaceful means, so long as freedom the press and freedom to petition is respected, it is a democracy. Even if Bush does not trust the people, those people obviously trust him and thus voted him in for a second time. Thus I do not believe that there is any relationship between a deceitful government and an undemocratic one.

Mr. Friedman,
2) “Even though I have never favored the war, I still think that Bush, and certainly the neocons, basically told the truth about the war.”

I am afraid, my friend, I have to respectfully disagree. Although most neo-conservatives in academia have made no secret of their intentions and hopes, the administration did, I believe, lie to the public in order to get support for a war that many people would not have otherwise supported. The administration maintained that making Iraq a democracy would be a wonderful benefit from the war, but that is not what sold the deal.

I believe that the American people supported the war because they believed at least one the following things:
- Saddam had WMD and would use them on us very soon
- Saddam was linked to the attacked of 9/11 and thus was culpable for the crime (70% of Americans believes this at one time)
- The conflict in Iraq would be relatively cost-free and short

None of those things turned out to be true and it has become increasingly clear that the administration either knew that these things were not true and told the public anyway, or was secretly uncertain of its truth but presented it as established fact.

The following are some very disturbing numbers attesting to the sad reality that even today, many people do not know the truth about what is happening:
http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/Media_10_02_03_Press.pdf
http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=508
http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=23439

3) “I had written email debates with people about the democratization plan months before the war and I recall hearing others debate the topic on air. I also recall hearing spokespeople for the administration talking about the plan to democratize the Middle East.”

I too recall those conversations, but if my memory is correct, the debate always rested on the assumption that Iraq had dangerous WMD, strong links to AQ, and was the next logical step after Afghanistan. Certainly, democratization was a factor, as was the concern that Saddam was a genocidal maniac whom the Iraqis would be better off without. Nevertheless, I can recall few pre-war debates that did not center on WMD and the physical threat Iraq posed to the United States. The following speech was often quotes extensively by war supporters. Unsurprisingly, I have not heard anyone bring it up since the conflict:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html

4) “The spies of some countries, most notably France, asserted that Iraq had nuclear weapons. The Russians evidently had a similar view. Which is to say, one need to consider just how totally incompetent the various spy agencies are.”

Indeed, it is possible that many countries suspected that Iraq had WMD but no one was certain, and certainly no one was certain enough to invade based on it. I believe that no one was certain for one reason: because George Tenet said so, AFTER the war. Once all eyes were on the intelligence agencies, all of a sudden nothing is certain (that is, no actual evidence existed that proved definitively what most Americans simply took for granted as fact). Furthermore, as the following article shows, the UN turned out to be quite accurate in its pre-war assessments.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4122113/

5) “The idea to alter Social Security was also publicized by Bush when he ran for office. While I do not favor his goal, much less his plan, it was hardly a secret.”

Although I disdain the lies of the administration in the so-called “crisis” of social security, I agree with you that this was something well known before the election.
http://www.factcheck.org/article302.html


N. Friedman - 2/1/2005

Arnold,

Every country on Earth seeks to expand its influence. The issue is what, in addition to blind will to power, a country contributes. In the scheme of things, the US contributes quite a bit.


Arnold Shcherban - 2/1/2005

Chris,

We are dealing here, by far, not with blindness, but with deliberate, cancerogenic, though very old ideological disease: US world supremacy, hegemony.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2005

The paragraph which now reads: "The Bushites, I think, were overly aggressive in their assertions about the significance of an Iraq with a WMD. That is to say, even if such weapons had been found, that is a far cry from making a case that Iraq could not be contained. Note, however, that does not mean they were" show actually read:

The Bushites, I think, were overly aggressive in their assertions about the significance of an Iraq with a WMD. That is to say, even if such weapons had been found, that is a far cry from making a case that Iraq could not be contained. Note, however, that does not mean they were lying. It means that held a different view than you hold.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2005

Ken,

Even though I have never favored the war, I still think that Bush, and certainly the neocons, basically told the truth about the war.

If you look back, the plan to democratize the Middle East was published and neocon speakers were all over the place hawking the democratization idea long before the war. I recall Richard Pearl speaking on NPR's On Point radio show regarding the matter more than a half a year before the war and saying that such was a major - albeit not the only - reason for the war. I thought he made no sense but that does not mean he did not state what the neocons and the administration had in mind. I had written email debates with people about the democratization plan months before the war and I recall hearing others debate the topic on air. I also recall hearing spokespeople for the administration talking about the plan to democratize the Middle East.

Regarding the weapons, the security services of every country of any substance, except for Israel (which, according to newspaper reports in Haaretz before the war, did not deem Iraq an imminent threat), basically agreed with the assessment that Iraq had WMD. The spies of some countries, most notably France, asserted that Iraq had nuclear weapons. The Russians evidently had a similar view. Which is to say, one need to consider just how totally incompetent the various spy agencies are.

The Bushites, I think, were overly aggressive in their assertions about the significance of an Iraq with a WMD. That is to say, even if such weapons had been found, that is a far cry from making a case that Iraq could not be contained. Note, however, that does not mean they were

The idea to alter Social Security was also publicized by Bush when he ran for office. While I do not favor his goal, much less his plan, it was hardly a secret.

Bush is a politician who acts like a politician. He is not an enemy of democracy.


Ken Melvin - 2/1/2005

If Bush and the neocons believed in democracy they would have told the truth about Iraq and would be telling the truth about Social Security. The plain fact is that Bush does trust the people with making the right decisions, i.e., he does not believe in democracy.


Lynn Bryan Schwartz - 2/1/2005

My earlier comment regarding the use of the caucuses in Afghanistan as a model for the initial CPA plan for democratic transition in Iraq was not meant to suggest that such a model was ideal. Rather, I freely noted that these early attempts at a some sort of democratic process would be flawed. MY POINT WAS: the models for early elections were in large part based on security issues and the cultural/political realities of these countries, i.e. fundamentalist Islamic tradition, sectarian/ethnic hatred and rivalry, gender inequality. The American experience has similar examples. Our first attempts at a democratic progress were naturally tempered by a British colonial traditional of a hierarchical society, one that stressed the importance of property ownership, and the supposed inferiority of women and blacks. What is more, the American experience has shown that the democratic process, once in motion, takes on its own dynamic despite the efforts of traditional ruling elites. In sum, it might be messy but we have to begin somewhere.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2005

Chris,

"get over this 'democracy and freedom' bs and blind ideological support..."

What should we replace belief in "democracy and freedom" with? Fascism? Communism? Islamism? Jihadism? Anti-Zionism? I guess you find the notions of free people to be BS. That is your problem.

Now, one can disagree vehemently, as I do, with much of the Bush program. That, however, does not mean that Bush does not believe in "democracy and freedom" or that such a belief is BS. So far as I know, "democracy and freedom" are values worthy of being believed in.

Again, Bush said nothing more extreme than Kennedy said long ago or what Lincoln said or what Jefferson - remember the Declaration of Independence? - said. Lofty rhetoric all.

The ultimate question, with regard to democracy and freedom, is whether Bush will ultimately advance the ball, let it sit or watch the ball get kicked back in all of our faces. And, likely, you and I shall not know the answer anytime soon because, to quote Kant, of "the hidden plan of nature." In fact, likely we shall not know even during his term of office.


Jonathan Pine - 2/1/2005

What is all the cheerleading about? democracy, freedom, fairness?

the reality is: the brutal occupation, martial law, a US-appointed election commission and secret candidates.

The latest news reveals there isn't going to be exit strategy.

Construction of massive military bases in Iraq, indicate that the US is digging in to install and back a long-term puppet regime. For this reason, the US-led presence will continue, with all that entails in terms of bloodshed and destruction.


chris l pettit - 2/1/2005

See the discussion over at Rebunk for more details...

get over this "democracy and freedom" bs and blind ideological support...

Are you all that blind? Seriously...

CP


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/1/2005

John,
I think you make some excellent points in your post, and I could not agree more. Iraq was more stable under Saddam, which is why without WMD or significant collaboration with AQ, our adventure there is hard to be seen as anything other than a colossal mistake (or an extremely reckless gamble). From what I have read, you are quite correct to point out how Iraq has now become the new haven for terrorists who want to kill some Americans.

I would also argue that the presence of the international community played a larger role than is often given credit for. Once the war had been effectively “won,” much of the work for nation-building, which this administration once had such disdain for, was undertaken largely by foreign agents like the United Nations. Many organizations have a record of nation building, and the expertise and personnel to work on Afghanistan whereas Iraq has none of these things.


John Henry Haas - 2/1/2005

"Perhaps it is time we starting asking why Afghanistan worked and Iraq, in my humble opinion, has not."

"From all accounts that I have read, Afghanistan is dominated throughout the country by local warlords."

"Certainly, there are many areas of the country dominated by “warlords,” but thus far, this does not seem to be a source of conflict or instability."

Isn't it the case that domination by warlords would, insofar as they're respecting certain boundaries between them, contribute rather than detract from the stability of Afghanistan? Like the way there was little street crime in Mafia controlled neighborhoods? Isn't it also the case that what stability there was in Iraq was established by Saddam Hussein and the Baathists, and that by removing him a kind of stability vacuum was created that the US et al has yet to be able to fill? And that that, in part, is why Afghanistan has "worked" better than Iraq (ie achieved a certain stability)? Is it also the case, perhaps, that Iraq has (flypaper like) drawn off a lot of the actors who might be creating instability in Afghanistan were that our only theatre of operations in the Middle East?


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/1/2005

Mr. Ebbitt,
I do not discount what you have said in your post, however I would humbly submit the possibility that the situation is not quite as precarious as you have stated. Certainly, there are many areas of the country dominated by “warlords,” but thus far, this does not seem to be a source of conflict or instability, that is to say no more than in Pakistan, where the same is true. It is also true that opium is at an all time high, as it inevitable in an impoverished nation with one massive cash crop. This is a greater problem for Westerners who are largely the recipient of these drugs than for the Afghan farmers who survive on them. Finally, it is possible that bin Laden is free to move around in Afghanistan, but this is also true with the many areas of Pakistan that are ruled by warlords. This is a problem, but hardly one that demonstrates an oddity in a region still bound by ethnic and tribal loyalties.

In short, I suppose our disagreement is in how we each define “stabilize.” I tend to look at Afghanistan and see a functioning government with a constantly expanding education system, an increasingly more efficient infrastructure where there was practically none before, and very little attempt of any warlord to either secede legally from the country, or overthrow the government. It is not perfectly stable, by any means, nor is it truly democratic, but given Afghanistan’s history and ethnic and tribal diversity, the fact that it has come this far while the more “advanced” and “progressive” Iraq is in utter shambles is what I was interested in looking at.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3733454.stm


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/31/2005

If someone had to guess which nation would have a harder time, Afghanistan and Iraq, I could not possibly imagine any knowledgeable person saying Iraq.

Iraq was awful, but stable. It had a fully functioning civil service and women’s rights that, while not great, was far better than many of its neighbors. It had a full military with centralized leadership and a relatively modern education system.

Afghanistan, by contrast, was highly unstable. The theocratic Taleban created a society that essentially functioned like the Middle Ages, with antiquated education systems, grotesque laws against women and any non-Muslim, and no real control over much of the country.

Although the history and cultures of these two nations are far more complex and I do not mean to unfairly either praise Saddam’s Iraq or anything like that, the fact is that it is hard to imagine one adapting better than the other. Nevertheless, that is exactly what has happened. There are still a lot of problems with Afghanistan but for the most part, things are headed in the right direction, and the government appears relatively stable (if not its hold over the country).

Iraq, by contrast, is going, by most official accounts, very poorly (and this is only is you could official reports). Although the election went far better than hoped, it has been the one saving grace in an otherwise dismal record.

The question worth asking then, is why this turn of events? Has Afghanistan progressed faster and better because of some internal sociological reason (i.e. maybe the Afghans faced more repression, and were thus more amenable to the reconstruction?) or it is about policy (Afghanistan had international support, international forces participating, and perceived legitimacy by the population?).

Perhaps it is time we starting asking why Afghanistan worked and Iraq, in my humble opinion, has not.

http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/front/7239049.htm?1c
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7460-2005Jan13.html


N. Friedman - 1/31/2005

Lawrence,

Rome was not built in a day.

What happened in Afghanistan was, for that part of the world, miraculous. This is not a question of swallowing any line.

One need only look at the sort of elections that occur or, to be more precise, the rare event of an election which may occur in that region, to realize that, with all the problems that exist in Afghanistan, the election was not one of the problems.


John H. Lederer - 1/31/2005

"The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic,"

that would be the election where the "Council of Guardians" selected 4 candidates from 200 as the only ones "fit" to be President and thus allowed to be on the ballot: 2 clerics, a Revolutionary Court Judge and a Revolutionary Court Prosecutor


Ken Melvin - 1/31/2005

Lipstick don't get it. Nor does rejecting blame, claiming credit or moving the goal post. The task at hand is how to make the best of a terrible situation. The elections were the best thing that has happened in Iraq since the US invasion; now, how to achieve some acceptable level of stability and get our troops out while killing the least number of Iraqis possible. This is no time for neocons and Israelis to join Bush in grave dancing; someone needs be held accountable for this atrocious mess. Along with Bush, Wolfowitz, Pearle, Feith, Kristol, Rumsfeld and Cheney must be called to account.


Lawrence Jones - 1/31/2005

If you believe the Afghani experience to be anything close to the model for democracy, then you really have swallowed the Administration's propaganda wholesale. Several provinces in Afghanistan had voter turnout of over 140% of eligible voters, a feat that even Karl Rove would be hard pressed to duplicate.


Lynn Bryan Schwartz - 1/31/2005

Without a doubt this first-ever election by the Iraqi people will be flawed. Yet, certainly the first American election was equalled flawed, and, as Dr. Cole I know would argue, American elections continue to be flawed. Democracy, the American experience has taught most of us, is a work-in-progress. Furthermore, I think it is interesting that Dr. Cole uses the same argument that the lackeys of al Sistani to promote (as reported by CNN on Monday 02/01)their own candidates and further delegitamize the role of the United States in creating a free Iraq. How quickly we forget, Dr. Cole says, that it was the CPA that opposed the election and the medieval-minded mullahs that argued so forcefully for it. But this is disingenuous. The initial CPA call for regional caucuses was certainly modeled on the Afghani experience. As in Afghanistan, these caucuses were then followed by direct elections last September. What is more, the initial CPA plan was not a result of the Bush Administrations desire to stop democracy. Rather, it certainly was based on the security situation which many on the Left, even now, condemn the timing of the election because of security issues.
In short, Dr. Coles' article is simply another attempt to delegitamize American policy in Iraq. Forced to eat crow because of the overwhelming enthusiasm of the Iraqi people for democracy which the United States steadfastly pursued despite poorly conceived, yet popular, criticism, those who oppose the United States and/or the Bush Administration want to make the nonsense assertion that the US does not desire credit ("Oh no, we don't want democracy) rather it is the work of al Sistani and his minions, medieval Islamic artifacts.

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