It Takes Talent

It takes a real talent to contradict yourself in your own op-ed.  In Today’s New York Times, Barack They Call It Mellow Yellow Obama talks about his plan in Iraq.  In one paragraph:

Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown.

Then the next paragraph:

[Surge] tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

So which is it?  Is Al-Quaeda getting stronger or weaker?  Are we winning or losing?  Perhaps my chief problem with Obama is that 9/11 didn’t really have anything to do with either Afghanistan or Iraq.  We were not attacked by the Taliban government either, they were just sheltering Al-Qaeda.  But we’re not at war with a country, we’re at war with an ideology.  I still stand by Steven Den Beste’s analysis of the situation from 5 years ago.  Even if Al-Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq before we invaded, and there’s evidence that it did in some measure, I don’t think, if you’re battling an ideology rather than a nation, that it’s a horrible idea to enter the heart of the region of the world that spurned that ideology, and fight anyone who wants to adhere to it.  If Iraq is soundly rejecting Al-Qaeda, because they have been shown for the butchers that they are, I think that’s a good outcome.

UPDATE: Richard Fernandez has more.

17 thoughts on “It Takes Talent”

  1. I really miss Den Beste. USS Clueless was a little island of rationality in a truly clueless wold.

  2. It’s not contradictory at all, in the context of “Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been.”

    The other two quotes fit with that: We are wasting blood and treasure in Iraq, where al Qaeda didn’t exist in the first place and is unable to gain a foothold due to it’s inhabitant’s rejection of it (which is not a result of the surge), yet there are other areas that we have been neglecting where the inhabitants are quite friendly to al Qaeda—Afghanistan and Pakistan come to mind—that we should be concentrating on.

    Also, Obama was not referring solely to al Qaeda, he said “Nearly every threat we face,” which includes but is not restricted to al Qaeda—the threat of Iran, to the extent that it actually exists, has nothing whatsoever to do with al Qaeda. He’s saying that all other threats are increasing as we concentrate everything in Iraq, where it is needed the least (and, in my opinion, should never have been sent in the first place).

  3. The problem is, what are you going to do about Pakistan? The Ameircan Army can’t exist in Afghanistan except through Pakistan’s graces, since our supply lines run through Pakistan. Afghanistan is a land locked country with no ports. I do agree you can’t solve the problem of Afghanistan without addressing Pakistan, but how does one do that?

  4. Well that’s an entirely different issue than what I’m talking about—I’m just pointing out that I don’t see anything contradictory in what he wrote concerning Iraq. What we did by invading Iraq was to take a small problem and turn it into a big one, at the expense of the big problems that already existed over there—and it made some of them worse.

    I agree with you—Pakistan is a sticky issue. Afghanistan less so, because it’s a failed state and we can basically do whatever we want. But yeah, it’s tied to Pakistan and I don’t know what to do about that. The entire region is volatile and unpredictable and I often find myself thinking the rather illiberal “Maybe we should just fucking nuke the entire region and be done with it” haha. I don’t actually think we can solve the Pakistan problem militarily, I just get frustrated.

    I’m a graphic designer, not a politician or a diplomat :)

  5. i bet you thought you were being all clever there didn’t you?

    AQ in Iraq getting weaker
    AQ in Afghanistan/Pakistand getting stronger

    AQ in Iraq was never there till we went there
    AQ in Afghanistan never went away because we went after a bad guy with no WMD’s and bad information from a dude we tortured…

    So you are in favor of Pre-emptive war I see. Sweet.

  6. I am in favor of preemptive war in the case of Saddam Hussein. He was a problem that was going to have to be dealt with at some point. The sanctions pretty obviously weren’t working.

  7. But the problem, Sebastian, is that it wasn’t a preemptive war. Preemptive war is something waged to repel or defeat an inevitable offensive or invasion—neither of which would have ever been forthcoming from Saddam Hussein. Despite the fact that Saddam was a filthy cocksucker and an evil prick, it wasn’t a preemptive invasion, it was just a regular, old-fashioned aggressive invasion.

    Yes, war advocates tried to make us believe it was preemptive—some of us bought that line, and others of us didn’t—but as it turns out, we all know now that the man had zero capabilities with which to attack us even if he wanted to, and had not re-started any of his nuclear or biological programs. So it wasn’t preemptive, in reality.

    Knowing that, I find it puzzling that you still say you support what we did, when it has so clearly been a complete and total waste of lives, money, goodwill, matériel, and pretty much anything else that went into it.

  8. What I mean to say is, I can understand why someone would defend their support for the war in 2003, but I find it hard to understand how someone can still think it was a good idea, using 2003 justifications that in 2008 we know not to be valid.

    It’s like … I can understand why a gun-banner would defend their opposition for CCW in Florida in 1987—they thought it would result in wild-west shootouts over fender-benders and blood running in the streets—but I can never understand how people can still oppose CCW, using 1987 arguments that in 2008 we know not to be valid.

  9. I don’t really see it that way. We never really ended the first gulf war. We agreed to a cease fire, the conditions of which Saddam never honored.

  10. That is absolutely true. However, that does not:

    1. Make the invasion preemptive, and/or
    2. Make the invasion a good idea.

    That’s just an argument for it being justifiable under international law, not an argument for it being necessary, productive, or a benefit to this country.

  11. Sure, but there is no way in hell that taking out one tyrannical asshole—certainly not the worst one in the world, nor the most dangerous—was worth $500 billion dollars, 4,000+ dead Americans and 30,000+ wounded and horribly disfigured Americans. You can’t seriously believe that.

    And sure, we’re not supposed to assassinate heads of state, but that’s never stopped us from trying before, and what would anyone have done if we had dropped a nice, fat MOAB on Saddam? Would have saved everyone a whole lot of trouble, money and blood.

    That being said, if we’re gonna take out one tyrannical, murderous asshole, Saddam is really the one that springs to your mind first? What ever happened to Osama bin Laden?

  12. Assassinations don’t really work, because you’re leaving the power structure that enabled the dictator to rule largely in tact. No ruler rules in a vacuum. You have to smash the entire power structure if you want to replace it with something more just (i.e. a halfway reasonable Democratic government).

    And yes, I do think it was worth it, because I don’t see alternatives. Saddam was well on his way to getting the sanctions lifted, which, had he been successful in that, would have allowed him to rearm himself eventually. I also think it’ll be beneficial, in the long run, to bring better ideas into the middle east than radical Islam and baathism. There may be bigger assholes out there, but this big asshole was in the middle of a region that’s strategically paramount to most of the world.

    It would have been nice to definitively kill or capture Osama, but he’s either a stain in a cave somewhere, or he’s hiding out in a very deep rat hole somewhere in Pakistan. If it’s the latter, that’s back to the Pakistan problem. The notion that we “let him get away” is rather ridiculous, because you can only support so many troops in a land locked country. It takes cooperation from Pakistan to move supplies into Afghanistan. Technology has changed a lot about warfare, but it hasn’t changed logistics, and armies still have to be fed, equipped, housed, and trained, which means you need ships, which means you need a port. The only way we would be able to sustain large scale military operations in Afghanistan is to either have full cooperation of Pakistan, or invade and occupy enough of Pakistan that we had access to a seaport.

  13. Re: Assassination. In general that’s true, but Iraqis lived with a specific, particular fear of Saddam himself, not his power structure. With Saddam dead, there would have been much more of a chance of a successful uprising, in addition to the fact that many people within Saddam’s structure were also only a part of it because of fear of Saddam himself. The power structure in North Korea, likewise, is largely dependent upon fear/adoration of Kim Jong Il himself. With him gone, the whole thing would likely fall apart.

    Re: Getting sanctions lifted. How? We have veto power at the UN. They would not be lifted until we wanted them lifted. We could have easily sat out Saddam the way we sat out Castro. Sooner or later, if nothing else, people just retire/die on their own. In any case, just because you and I cannot necessarily see any alternatives other than sanctions vs. invasion doesn’t mean there weren’t any.

    Re: Western ideas. But in the end, we are not getting a western-style liberal democracy in Iraq anyway—we’re getting a Shiite country largely aligned with Iran. Another reason why attacking Iran is a terrible idea. But you name a terrible idea, and this administration will do it.

  14. Iraqis lived in fear of Saddam personally? Or of the police state apparatus he constructed around him? I mean, it’s possible if would have fallen apart absent Saddam, but who would have filled that vacuum? His sons? Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, but his death didn’t really help the Russians get a better government, or shed the burdens of living in a police state.

    I think we would have had to give in on sanctions eventually. Our allies (many of whom we now know were bought off) were already starting to pressure for more and more exemptions to it, and I think we would have had a difficult time sustaining support for them. At some point, I think they would have had to come off.

    We’re not going to get a western Democracy in Iraq. We’ll get a relatively corrupt but relatively democratic government. It’ll suck by western standards, but South Korea was a mess for a while too. I will agree that this was the worst administration possible to try a venture like this, and I was saying that before we went in, that “In principle I agree with this, but I don’t know if this administration is competent enough to take this country to war.” That said, I don’t really agree that Iraq is really aligning itself with Iran all that much. Iran is certainly trying to make it turn out that way, but I wouldn’t discount the fact that the Persian-Arab rivalry plays a part in Iraq wanting to go its own way. I agree that at this point it would be a terrible mistake to invade Iran, but I also don’t think Obama’s ideas on how to engage them will work.

  15. “it’s possible if would have fallen apart absent Saddam, but who would have filled that vacuum?” The same powerful local actors who have filled it now, probably.

    “Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, but his death didn’t really help the Russians get a better government, or shed the burdens of living in a police state.” Yet it eventually occurred without a full-scale US invasion :)

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