“Not a Purely U.S. Military Solution”

Following up the last couple of posts, on deteriorating conditions in Iraq — Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon (via True Blue Liberal):

This latest “turning point” reveals an Iraqi state without a social contract, a government without a center, a prime minister without power and an American president without a strategy. Each sectarian group maintains its own militia. Each leader’s influence rests on these armed bands, separate armies of tens of thousands of men. The militias have infiltrated and taken over key units of the Iraqi army and local police, using them as death squads, protection rackets and deterrent forces against enemies. Reliable statistics are impossible, but knowledgeable reporters estimate there are about 40 assassinations a day in Iraq. Ethnic cleansing is sweeping the country. From Kirkuk in the north to Baghdad in the middle to Basra in the south, Kurds are driving out Turkmen and Arabs, Shiites are killing Sunnis, and the insurgency enjoys near unanimous support among Sunnis.

So what does Bush have to say about it?

In his speech on Monday referring to another “turning point,” President Bush twice spoke of “victory.” “Victory” is the constant theme he has adopted since last summer, when he hired public opinion specialist Peter Feaver for the National Security Council. Feaver’s research claims that the public will sustain military casualties so long as it is persuaded that they will lead to “victory.” Bush clings to this P.R. formula to explain, at least to himself, the decline of his political fortunes. “Because we’re at war, and war unsettles people,” he said in an interview with NBC News last week. To make sense of the disconcerting war, he imposes his familiar framework of us vs. them, “the enemy” who gets “on your TV screen by killing innocent people” against himself.

In his Monday speech, Bush reverted yet again to citing Sept. 11, 2001, as the ultimate justification for the Iraq war. Defiant in the face of terrorists, he repeated whole paragraphs from his 2004 campaign stump speech. “That’s just the lessons of September the 11th that I refuse to forget,” he said. Stung by the dissent of the former commanders of the U.S. Army in Iraq who have demanded the firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Bush reassured the audience that he listens to generals. “I make my mind up based not upon politics or political opinion polls, but based upon what the commanders on the ground tell me is going on,” he said.

Yet currently serving U.S. military commanders have been explicitly telling him for more than two years, and making public their view, that there is no purely military solution in Iraq. For example, Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander, said on April 12, 2004: “There is not a purely U.S. military solution to any of the particular problems that we’re facing here in Iraq today.”

In defending the war, righties like to point to the alleged high-minded goals. What is it about bringing democracy to the Middle East you don’t like? they sneer. And, y’know, I’m fine with democracy in the Middle East. I’m sure that Condi and Dick and crew are right that if Iraq and other nations of the Middle East were to become stable and democratic the whole world would benefit. The catch is that this is not the sort of goal that lends itself to a purely military solution. If, indeed, one nation could lead another nation — a nation on the other side of the world with a hugely different culture — to democracy, I suspect the way to do it is through the slow, patient work of cultural, economic, and political diplomacy. But the Bushies figured they could do the job a lot quicker through a purely military solution. All they had to do was invade and destroy the current government, and the Iraqis naturally would revert to the universal default form of government, democracy.

What the Bushies didn’t realize is that people of other cultures have very different notions of what is default.

At this point the rightie is dancing around, yelling what about Japan? Well, what about it? I realize that American popular history says 1940s Japan was a monarchy until General MacArthur gave them a democratic constitution and a representative government, but that is not exactly so. First, the role of the Japanese emperor before the war was not analogous to that of a European king; he had influence, but political power rested in an oligarchy made up of the ruling class. Emperor Hirohito didn’t have much to do with governing Japan, even though on paper he was the sovereign.

In the 1920s political power in Japan shifted away from the nobility and toward its elected parliament — yes, I said elected parliament — and democratic political parties. The democratically elected parliament had been established by a constitution adopted in 1889.

In the 1930s the military establishment — men who advocated purely military solutions — came to power and began to call the shots. Literally. And a few years later Japan was utterly crushed.

The postwar constitution, adopted in 1947, gave sovereignty to the people and guaranteed basic civil liberties for the first time in Japan. But as a practical matter the form of government the Japanese enjoyed after World War II was not as different from what they had before as Americans imagine.

There are myriad other distinctions, such as the fact that the Japanese had a unified national/cultural identity that Iraqis lack. After the war the Japanese people could still look to their own emperor as their symbolic head of state. And I suspect the Confucian/Buddhist ethical sensibilities imported long before from China made a huge difference as well, although that’s too complex a topic to take on right now. But the larger point is that the United States did not introduce representative government to Japan for the first time and turn a monarchy into a democracy. And without Japan, examples of totalitarian nations successfully forced to become democratic by another nation, through a purely military solution, are mighty hard to come by.

Blumenthal continues,

Newsweek reported this week that the U.S. military, in fact, is no longer pursuing a strategy for “victory.” “It is consolidating to several ‘superbases’ in hopes that its continued presence will prevent Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure—and casualties—inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military units. It is a circle no one has squared. But consolidation plans are moving ahead as a default position, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has talked frankly about containing the spillover from Iraq’s chaos in the region.”

Yet Bush continues to declare as his goal (with encouragement from his polling expert on the NSC) the victory that the U.S. military has given up on. And he continues to wave the banner of a military solution against “the enemy,” although this “enemy” consists of a Sunni insurgency whose leadership must eventually be conciliated and brought into a federal Iraqi government and of which the criminal Abu Musab al-Zarqawi faction and foreign fighters are a small part.

Bush’s belief in a military solution, moreover, renders moot progress on a political solution, which is the only potentially practical approach. His war on the Sunnis simply agitates the process of civil war. The entire burden of progress falls on the U.S. ambassador, whose inherent situation as representative of the occupying power inside the country limits his ability to engage in the international diplomacy that might make his efforts to bring factions together possible. Khalilzad’s tentative outreach to Iran, in any case, was shut down by Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for her part, finds herself in Bulgaria, instead of conducting shuttle diplomacy in Amman, Jordan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Ankara, Turkey; and Tehran. The diplomatic vacuum intensifies the power vacuum in Iraq, exciting Bush’s flights of magical thinking about victory: I speak, therefore it is.

Bush’s Iraq policy, insane as it is, makes sense to hard-core righties. It makes sense to people who divide the world into two basic groups — “Americans” and “foreigners.” It makes sense to xenophobes who believe the foreigners want nothing more than to be just like Americans. It makes sense to authoritarians who assume that the only smart way to deal with people is by force. Diplomacy is for weenies. Considering foreigners’ point of view is appeasement. Appeasement is weak. Force is strong. We are strong. Therefore, we use force.

The whole insanity of the Global War on Terror is that righties insist it must be a literal, shoot-’em-up, John Wayne landing on the beach-type war. But you send armies to fight other armies, not a tactic. If your goal is to change peoples’ hearts and minds, shooting at them seems a wrongheaded way to go about it.

Righties insist on a hard, rigid approach to fighting terrorism. But terrorism is fluid. It is not bound by territory. It perpetually seeks new channels for expressing itself. In time, what is fluid will nearly always defeat what is hard and rigid, like water wearing away a rock.

    Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
    Yet nothing is better at attacking the hard and strong.
    There is no substitute for it.
    The weak overcomes the strong; the soft overcomes the hard.
    Everyone knows this, but no one puts it into practice. — Tao Teh Ching, verse 78

Blumenthal continues,

Bush doesn’t know that he can’t achieve victory. He doesn’t know that seeking victory worsens his prospects. He doesn’t know that the U.S. military has abandoned victory in the field, though it has been reporting that to him for years. But the president has no rhetoric beyond “victory.”

Bush’s chance for a quick victory in Iraq evaporated when the neoconservative fantasy collapsed almost immediately after the invasion. But the “make-believe” of “liberation” that failed to provide basic security set in motion “fratricidal violence,” as Nir Rosen writes in his new book, “In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq,” based on firsthand observation of the developing insurgency in the vacuum created by U.S. policy.

Whether Bush is or isn’t the flaming idiot we sometimes make him out to be is a matter of opinion. But it’s plain he has a rigid mind, as well as a lazy one. And, I suspect, his thinking remains parochial — he views the world through the prism of American national politics. What is actually happening in Iraq may interest him less than the war’s value to him in political capital. In that sense, what the American people think is happening in Iraq is the only relevant reality.

Blumenthal continues,

On May 15, Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political advisor, gave a speech revealing one of his ideas about politics. “I think,” he said, “there’s also a great utility in looking at game changers. What are the things that will allow us to fundamentally change people’s behavior in a different way?” Since Sept. 11, Rove has made plain that terrorism and war are the great game changers for Bush.

But while war may be the game changer for Bush’s desire to put in place a one-party state, forge a permanent Republican majority, redefine the Constitution and the relationships of the branches of the federal government, and concentrate power in the executive, Bush has only the rhetoric of “victory.” He has not stated what would happen the day after “victory.” Although a victory parade would be his political nightmare, now the absence of victory is his nightmare. With every proclaimed “turning point,” “victory” becomes ever more evanescent. He has no policy for victory and no politics beyond victory.

To a rightie, those who speak against purely military solutions to America’s foreign policy problems are “anti-military” and “self-loathing.” We liberals, they think, oppose the “very defense of the world’s one true beacon of freedom. … we do not own that freedom but are tasked with her defense and care by default.”

We liberals think that shredding the Constitution and allowing the chief executive to take on unlimited power and operate in near total secrecy is not the smart way to defend freedom. We think sending our mighty military halfway around the world to get bogged down in sand is not a smart way to defend the nation. Righties cannot understand that our problem is not with their high-minded goals, but with their stupid solutions.

23 thoughts on ““Not a Purely U.S. Military Solution”

  1. Great post, Maha…

    Though I think you’re a little off on the Japanese…

    Hirohito was much more powerful than you portray him…Indeed to the Japanese masses, he was the “Son of Heaven”…People were afraid to even look at his palace…

    And until his broadcst announcement of the end of hostilities – the term “surrender” was never used – no one outside his immediate family circle had ever heard his voice…(By the way, his announcement had to be translated for the public because Hirohito did not speak colloquial Japanese)…

  2. Regarding Newsweeks report of the US “consolidating on superbases,” this is exactly what the French were forced to do in Algieria. From these conclaves, the French forces would go out and terrorize the indigenous populations then return to the safety of their bases to claim daily victories. This happened everyday until Charles de Gaulle, rightfully withdrew his troops and returned the French colony to its rightful owners.

  3. Hey D.R. — as I understand it, although he was revered as a god, Hirohito didn’t have much to do with governing and in fact didn’t have much influence over the generals. His role doesn’t have any counterpart in western culture than I can think of, so it’s a little hard us for westerners to wrap our heads around it.

  4. So, Bush chose a public opinion specialist named Peter Feaver, who advised Bush to just keep repeating the word ‘victory’.

    I imagine Feaver suffers a feverish angst about now. And I imagine that the feverish angst is a fast spreading dis-ease among the Bush voters, sickening even the die-hards who are ready to vomit from ingesting so much bull.

  5. I think D.R. might be referring to that book on Japan that came out a few years ago. Herbert Blix? I remember reading that his book sort of bucked the trend on our view of Hirohito. Although he’s a Nobel Prize winning author, I don’t know if he “cherry picked” the documents he was reading or if he has a good case. I remembering hearing that MacArthur and Hirohito “came to an understanding” in order to protect the monarchy from probable war crimes. This was news to a lot of us at the time.
    But I still think your analysis was superb, Maha. Your major point that Japan was following democratic traditions in the early 20th century still stands. (The Meiji period, late 1800’s to early 1900’s, particularly illustrates this)

  6. Maha…Hirohito had everything to do with the Japanese militarists…

    Every important action of the Japanese Imperial Forces was discussed “openly” in a sort of Kabuki-like setting…With Hirohito “listening” in from his throne…

    After the “discussions” had been held, Hirohito would repair to his “chambers” where he would give his decision to his Prime Minister (who was one of his relatives) and the PM would relay the Imperial “Word” to the assembled Generals/Admirals…

    The more benign version that serves as CW these days was part of the PR effort that went into saving Hirohito ( and many others)from getting his neck stretched…

    Every notice in the photos how badly Hirohito’s western-style clothes fit?…That was because no tailor was ever allowed to touch him…

    There are a couple of good biographies of Hirohito…

  7. “…universal default form of government, democracy.” Love that! How many times in human history has government defaulted to democracy? Too funny.

  8. On another note…

    Have you noticed how every time we “turn the corner” in Iraq, the usual suspects proclaim “the next six months” will be the crucial period…

    Flat-Earth Freidman has gone through a half-dozen iterations…So far…

    Sounds just slightly different than it was in the ’60s…

    Back then it was always: “another 50,000 troops and six more months” before we’d achieve “Victory” (whatever that was supposed to be)…

    The more things change…

  9. I’d love to see a timeline of this, complete with administration statements at each “corner,” wouldn’t you? (Say, are these the sort of corners you find in a maze?)

  10. For 99+% of human pre-history, the default form of human government has been small hunter-gatherer tribes, run by small-clan family politics. It’s a form of democracy, I suppose, except when the headman was strong. For most of history, barbarians have been democrats and civilizations have been kingdoms; but there have been exceptions. The trouble with civilization is that piling up wealth attracts thieves.

  11. D.R. — It is possible Hirohito’s decisions were more ceremonial than executive. Again, there isn’t any counterpart to this in western culture, but I did enough time in a Japanese-lineage monastery to figure out that in Japanese culture what stuff looks like to a westerner is often quite different from what it represents to the Japanese. I suspect it was essential for war plans to receive the blessing of the Son of Heaven (and thereby the mandate of heaven, which goes back to the Confucian influence), but the generals were really in charge of Japan in the 1930s.

    Historians disagree how much of a role Hirohito actually played in military decisions. Some think he was just complying with protocol and that Tojo was really in charge, although a few think Hirohito was more of a prime mover than he wanted to let on. Everything he did was behind the scenes, so it’s hard to say.

    Remember that for a big chunk of Japanese history (11th – 19th century) Japan was governed by the shoguns and other military warlords. If you compared Japan of the shogunate to feudal Europe I think the emperor’s role would have been closer to that of the pope — sorta kinda — than of an emperor in the western sense of the word. Like popes, the emperors could have considerable political influence when they chose to use it, of course, but they didn’t involve themselves much in the nitty-gritty of governing the people.

  12. Several thoughts on this great post…

    I never studied political science, but it seems the default form of government is warlordism, which is what Iraq looks like to me. Out of anarchy the alpha males become warlords.

    In our country, with the shredding of the Constitution and the social contract, this becomes institutionalized as fascism. Getting everyone to agree to the rule of law, essentially getting everyone to agree to cooperate and be civil – what we normally think of as “democracy” – is an order of behavior beyond warlordism, and is what we have lost under conservative rule.

    The righties’ reliance on the military as a solution for every problem is like the craftsman with only one tool in their toolbox. But how they love the warfare and dominance structures this tool tries to create.

    Even if it were reasonable to anticipate a democratic outcome from military actions in Iraq (it isn’t, as your post outlined), the neocons behind it have zero credibility in their ability to pull it off. These are the bumblers who said we’d be greeted with flowers and candy. Skilled diplomats they aren’t. It’s like asking your Aunt Millie to do brain surgery.

    Bush’s pronouncements of Victory remind me of the articles I was reading a few weeks ago about his pathological need to prove himself. Wish I could give you a link, but one anecdote had him playing tennis in the snow with an old college buddy, the game continuing on and on unrelentingly as the snow fell, because the buddy was beating W, and Bush couldn’t let that happen. He could not appear to be a loser.

  13. Great post — and the situation in Germany was much the same. We did not bring democracy into a country that had never heard the word before. The German Empire had a national legislature beginning in 1871 or 1872, and there were also provincial legislatures, and if memory serves, the suffrage was not hugely more restricted than in the U.S. at the same time. In other words, Hitler — who initially took power following legal, democratic elections, by the way — interrupted a trend toward democratic government that already existed, and our victory over Hitler’s government restored the pre-Hitler status quo.

  14. Ok, here is the thing…yesterday an author and Auschwitz survivor(whom I dearly love)Elie Wiesel and Oprah walked thru the death camp in Poland .Even though I knew the story well,Watching Elie as he stood there where his family was torn apart , knowing now his mother and his younger siblings were on their way to certain death when they thought they were only going to shower,,I felt a stunning parallel(several really) to the present…

    How many righties would climb right into that “shower” now if king george told them they should in the name of the “war on terror”? This is why I am a bit “unhinged” and we should all be deeply concerned about protecting our consititution and our laws..this is why it’s not ok, the things we are doing to arabs…and yet here we are, after all the suffering of those who came before us, having learned nothing.We allow death and suffering around the world and what do we do? Start wars of choice and make more suffering.And we watch the suffering without a word.

    I am afraid we are headed down that road.Before bush torture was un- thinkable..But now we have decided it is ok for some..we must have because there was no public out-cry for justice when bush added his “signing statement” to Mccains anti torture bill….we all know what it means*wink wink nod nod*don’t be fooled bush co could tell the public anyone of us “needed ” to be tortured by playing the terrorist card and righties would say nothing all the way to the shower….which is just what has happened.

    We the people have been scammed.All the crap we have been spoon fed about democracy and despots is whooey..Pure and simple.bush has never meant a damn word he has said about corner turning and resolve…

    His “resolve” is an agenda bush co had before they took office to make themselves and their cronies rich beyond our wildest dreams with the US treasury to fund their endeavor(basically us and our kids)….they have managed to all but bankrupt us doing it but they don’t care…the little people of the world are but cattle and their democracy excuse is feed to shut the masses up long enough to achieve their goal.. there is plenty of room for an Auschwitz in the future for anyone who would stand in the way…and the innocent killed in Iraq are not even a consideration…

    bush can keep saying whatever he wants but for the right to be willing to lay down for dear leader, willing to follow him all the way to the “shower” and then call the left weak is stunning. For them to stand silent while bush declares the right to break whatever law he chooses and torture whom ever he pleases makes the terrorists the big winners because they have destroyed everything we stood so proudly for… and brings us one step closer to the results of failing to learn the lessons Auschwitz should have taught us…yet the bloodlust grows stronger.

  15. “The postwar constitution, adopted in 1947, gave sovereignty to the people and guaranteed basic civil liberties for the first time in Japan.”

    Gen. Douglas MacArthur, well known liberal bugaboo, who ruled Japan before the Constitution was established, brought in the American Civil Liberties Union as a major consultant on civil liberties and constitutional rights.

  16. In yesterdays post, States of Chaos, in the link to Andrew Bacavich’s interview there was an interesting observation. Bacavich says that the overwhelming success of Desert Storm was in a big way responsible for distorting the reality in what can be accomplished with an invasion of Iraq. Looking back at Desert Storm, I remember the Iraqi soldiers eagerly surrendering by the thousands and can vaugely see how one might conclude a second invasion would be meet with a shower of flowers for a liberating army. As things turned out, we weren’t showered with flowers, but we did have the opportunity to win hearts and minds for a period after the dust settled…and we blew it..Remember, Mission Accomplished?.. Well it was… because that’s only as far as it was thought out.

    I think Bush doesn’t have any options other than to hold on to his victory mantra. Most criminals proclaim their innocence even after they’ve been convicted. Only in a Perry Mason story does the criminal break down and confess.

  17. Every notice in the photos how badly Hirohito’s western-style clothes fit?…That was because no tailor was ever allowed to touch him…

    Ya mean…he wasn’t wearing a zoot suit?

  18. No Zoot suits…But Hirohito did make a trip to the states and visited Disneyland…

    He ’bout freaked out when “Mickey Mouse” tried to put his arm around the Emporer for a photo…

  19. On a semi-related note, it should be pointed out that Japan was very pro-American until 1924, when the Johnson-Reed Act (aka Asian Exclusion Act) was passed by Congress. The blatant racism and xenophobia that surrounded the adoption of this legislation caused a huge outrage in Japan, and actually helped the military junta to exploit the consequent rise of nationalist sentiment and come to power. In a sense, Pearl Harbor may have never happened, had it not been for those who wanted to keep America white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.

  20. In a sense, Pearl Harbor may have never happened, had it not been for those who wanted to keep America white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.

    Karma’s a bitch.

  21. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Limitations of Military “Solutions”

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